State withholding details on Tesla jobs

Cuomo administration is refusing to release a report that details Buffalo employment and other business activity

The Cuomo administration is refusing to release a new report on the number of people employed at the Tesla plant built with $950 million in taxpayer funds in South Buffalo. 

The Empire State Development Corp. says the report, due by May 31, was submitted, but the agency has refused to release it to Investigative Post. 

Instead, ESD issued a statement indicating that Tesla now has 1,000 workers at the Gigafactory in Buffalo — 460 short of the total the company promised to create under its original agreement with the state.

According to ESD, Tesla currently employs 1,600 people statewide, although it’s unclear if that number includes those working at the Buffalo plant. Tesla is obligated to employ 1,480 statewide outside the Buffalo area.

The company so far has spent $800 million on its New York operations, including payroll and capital purchases, according to ESD’s statement.


Scheer discusses his story with WBFO


In a filing with the Securities and Exchange Commission last month, Tesla said operations at Gigafactory New York have not “fully ramped up” due to complications related to the pandemic. 

In early May, the state, citing the impact of COVID-19, agreed to extend Tesla’s deadline to meet its employment targets to Dec. 31 of this year. If Tesla fails to meet its obligations, the state can impose a $41.3 million penalty. 

On May 17, Investigative Post submitted a Freedom of Information request seeking a copy of Tesla’s 2021 annual report and asking that the document be made available on the date it was filed. 

In a May 24 response, ESD said it had “no record responsive” to the request. Investigative Post appealed the finding.  

In an email also dated May 24, Pamm Lent, ESD’s Director of Communications for Western New York, acknowledged the records request, saying she would “make sure you get anything that is released.

On Tuesday, Investigative Post again asked for a copy of the report after Lent issued her press release. She changed her tune, saying ESD would not release the report on which her press release was based. She hung up on Investigative Post reporters when they challenged the state’s position.

On Wednesday, Lent again denied Investigative Post’s request for a copy of the report, which she said Tesla filed with the state on Friday. Lent said her agency would only release the document following the filing of a formal Freedom of Information request – which Investigative Post had already done. 

“ESD has always released documents based on FOIL requests,” said Lent, who, according to SeeThroughNY was paid $118,029 in 2019. 

The law does not require the filing of an FOI request before releasing public records. Government bureaucrats sometimes demand the filing of a request, which usually results in a delay in the release of records.

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“The Cuomo administration has consistently refused to be transparent about Buffalo Billion projects,” said Jim Heaney, editor of Investigative Post.  

“ESD’s refusal to release the report follows that pattern of behavior, which dates to the bid-rigging in 2014 that resulted in the conviction of a major donor to the governor and his top economic development official.” 

Lent, in a May 19 email, said Tesla continues to manufacture components of the company’s solar roof product. In addition, she said Riverbend is being used as an assembly site for Superchargers, the components that power Tesla’s vehicles. She added that Tesla is hiring to bring part of its autonomous vehicle services operation to Buffalo. 

In its 2019 report and accompanying memo filed with the state, Tesla said employment at the Buffalo plant was 330 workers. Employment elsewhere in the state was 633 full-time and four part-time jobs. Spending through April 19 of that year was $382 million. 

In a report filed last year and and accompanying memo, the company said it had 473 full-time jobs at the Riverbend facility in Buffalo and 349 full-time jobs at locations in other parts of the state. The company reported a cumulative investment through April 30, 2020, of $635 million.