Is Elon Musk Seeking a Return to the Days of the Company Town?

The ambitious plans for Starbase, Texas

A prototype of SpaceX's Starship is pictured at the company's Texas launch facility on September 28, 2019 in Boca Chica near Brownsville, Texas.
Loren Elliott/Getty Images

What does it mean to be a company town? In the 19th and early 20th century, towns whose fortunes were intricately linked with that of their primary employer abounded. This wasn’t a uniquely American phenomenon, either — some may recall Fordlandia, Henry Ford’s foray into municipal planning. In more recent years, variations on the theme have continued — including some that bordered on the absurd — but the idea of the company town hasn’t gone away. As anyone who’s seen Nomadland can attest, company towns are still a very real phenomenon.

Reportedly, Elon Musk is looking to offer his own spin on the concept. A new article by Samantha Masunaga at the Los Angeles Times notes that Musk has Tweeted about wanting to create a new city that would incorporate Boca Chica Village, Texas — the location of SpaceX’s Starship facility.

Musk expressed his interest in naming this new city Starbase, and he’s gone on to use the name in posts on social media. Masunaga writes of the potential advantages of this arrangement: “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.”

Still, the article also notes that creating a company town is no easy task, especially when history has not always looked kindly on company towns’ treatment of workers. That said, SpaceX’s holdings in Cameron County — location of Boca Chica Village — currently include 110 parcels of land, according to the Los Angeles Times. That sounds like the start of something big.

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