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Missouri Dreams of Traveling 700 Miles an Hour

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Missouri Dreams of Traveling 700 Miles an Hour

Missouri is moving quickly to try to win the first Hyperloop certification track, betting the nearly half-billion-dollar project will help turn the state into a technology powerhouse that can attract top talent from across the country.

Los Angeles-based Virgin Hyperloop One sent out a request for proposals Monday asking states to bid for a chance to host a 6-mile certification track that would test for commercial use the theoretical technology aiming to move people and cargo in near friction-free pods that can travel close to 700 miles an hour.

Missouri had its hand up long before the document came out. Virgin Hyperloop One’s Chief Executive

Jay Walder

said that when he met Missouri’s Republican Gov.

Mike Parson

in April, the first thing the governor said was, “How can we bring Hyperloop to Missouri?”

While other states such as Texas, North Carolina and Ohio have also been studying the opportunity, Missouri has been ahead in publicly staking out its position on Hyperloop, according to

Ryan Kelly,

a Virgin Hyperloop One spokesman. Missouri released the first feasibility study in the U.S. of Hyperloop in October last year. The Missouri speaker of the house set up a blue-ribbon panel to study Hyperloop that released a report last week outlining how the state could win the certification track and ultimately become the center of a national Hyperloop system.

Behind Missouri’s push is a fear that its major cities could be left behind economically as it faces sluggish population growth and a contracting labor force.

“States like Missouri have sort of been seen as being left behind,” said

Elijah Haahr,

the state’s Republican speaker of the house. “This is our chance to catch up on that front.”

The price tag for the test track could be between $300 million and $500 million, the panel’s report found. The panel also found that a line connecting Kansas City to St. Louis that would traverse 250 miles in 30 minutes could cost more than $10 billion. Virgin Hyperloop One said in its request for proposals that if the certification track is successful, it might then build the full line connecting the two cities.

The state hopes to fund the effort through a public-private partnership, including an investment from Virgin Hyperloop, to avoid raising taxes but hasn’t nailed down financing yet. Bids are due in February.

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Mr. Haahr’s panel believes the economic impact of a Hyperloop system in Missouri could reach more than $3.5 billion and bring more than 17,000 new jobs.

Missouri’s labor force contracted 0.3% last year, after declining 0.6% in 2017. Its population of six million people has grown about 2% since 2010.

“Where businesses are locating has to do primarily with workforce and their access to workforce,” said

Joe Reagan,

a member of Mr. Haahr’s panel and former CEO of the St. Louis Regional Chamber. The Hyperloop would allow “new companies outside the region to be able to locate more confidently in either Kansas City or St. Louis.”

Mr. Kelly said that 22 states have expressed interest in bidding for the project.

Hyperloop One demonstrated the first full-scale propulsion test of a hyperloop system. An approximately 10-foot sled on tracks zipped forward at 116 miles an hour, and crashed into a pile of sand. Photo: AP (Originally Published May 11, 2016)

William Murdock,

executive director of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, said the state plans to bid. “We don’t want to miss what the next new technology is,” he said.

Virgin Hyperloop One hasn’t said which state it might pick. But Mr. Walder, its CEO, said that he thinks the first Hyperloop won’t be in a major urban area like New York or Los Angeles. The company needs large, flat and sparsely developed tracts of land to build the tubes that would hold the pods. Urban density can present land-rights challenges and would require digging below ground, which is more expensive.

The idea for Hyperloop was first floated by

Tesla Inc.

CEO

Elon Musk

in a 2013 paper. At the time, Mr. Musk predicted he could build a prototype in three to four years. Critics raised concerns about costs. Virgin Hyperloop One’s certification track would be the first time a test track would be built for the purpose of seeking governmental approval.

“They’ve moved beyond napkin stage, so that’s promising,” said

Joe Milazzo,

executive director of North Carolina’s Regional Transportation Alliance, a business group that focuses on transportation in the Raleigh-Durham region. He said North Carolina hasn’t decided yet whether to submit a bid.

Virgin Hyperloop One said in addition to building a six- to 15-mile-long test track, the project would include a certification and research center that could serve as a hub for studying Hyperloop technology. The company said it would employ about 200 people at the certification center. Constructing the test track and facility could lead to several thousand more jobs.

Key players behind the Missouri push say missing out on the Transcontinental Railroad in the late 1880s has left a permanent mark on the psyche of the state and they don’t want to let revolutionary technology leave them behind again.

Dan Mehan,

president of the Missouri Chamber of Commerce, said instead of focusing on the past, the state is going to work to win the Hyperloop project “that for future generations puts Missouri on the map like it hasn’t been.”

Write to Shayndi Raice at shayndi.raice@wsj.com

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