The secluded Texas beachside community of Boca Chica Village was once a haven for retirees, snowbirds and outdoorsy people who enjoyed dirt biking, fishing or lounging near the water.
Today, traffic backs up the lone highway out of the unincorporated area that’s now home to only about half a dozen residents — and SpaceX’s Starship facility. During the day, selfie-seeking tourists line the road for photos with the stainless steel spaceship under development. At night, excavators plow the earth at the busy construction site. Before test launches, residents receive a notice suggesting they temporarily evacuate for safety.
Even more change could be in the Texas neighborhood’s future. In March, SpaceX Chief Executive Elon Musk tweeted that he wanted to create a city encompassing Boca Chica Village and the surrounding area.
Its name? Starbase.
“Please consider moving to Starbase or greater Brownsville/South Padre area in Texas & encourage friends to do so!” Musk tweeted this week. “SpaceX’s hiring needs for engineers, technicians, builders & essential support personnel of all kinds are growing rapidly.”
Creating a city could have several benefits for SpaceX. In theory, it might help the private spaceflight company attract future employees, foster a political climate friendly to a business that’s bound to be a noisy neighbor and even pave the way for the development of the kinds of amenities that might crop up near a would-be transportation hub.
Musk is hardly the first entrepreneur to think about forming a city.
The late 19th and early 20th centuries are rife with examples of company towns, chocolate-centric Hershey, Pennsylvania, among them. The idea is now gaining new life as tech entrepreneurs voice dissatisfaction with government restrictions and limitations. In Nevada, the governor wants to allow tech companies to essentially create their own local governments.
“This initiative in Nevada to me reads as a new way of doing business, a new way of trying to avoid some of the common challenges that some of these companies have been running into the last couple of years,” said Jared Mondschein, associate physical scientist at Rand Corp. who has studied the digital transformation of cities. “The wild card in all these conversations is always: How will people who live there react?”
The company town of old was typically formed to attract workers to new job sites. Industries such as mining and smelting often set up sites far away from population centers — inconveniently far for daily commutes. A company town was almost a necessary overhead expense, said Tracy Hadden Loh, a fellow at Brookings, a D.C.-based think tank.