Google's $600M Data Center Plan Boosts Business in Small N.C. City

Construction has begun; company seeking workers

Google Inc.’s decision to build a $600 million data center in Lenoir, N.C., (pop. 17,000) has already started to benefit the city.

Some 400 to 500 construction workers are building the data center, which is less than a mile from Lenoir’s downtown. The workers are staying at local hotels, buying from local shops and visiting health and fitness facilities, P. Kaye Reynolds, the city’s economic development director, noted late last month.

And once the facility opens, she said, workers are likely to patronize nearby restaurants.

Google announced plans for the facility in January.

The company is already advertising for employees, including a facilities manager with experience managing a data center of 50,000 square feet or larger.

According to officials, the facility will employ about 210 people — nearly as many as the number of people who work for the city of Lenoir, which is situated between Asheville and Greensboro.

Scott Millar, president of the Catawba County Economic Development Corp., noted that Google’s move could boost the region’s viability as a data center location. Catawba County is adjacent to Caldwell County, where Lenoir is located.

“Others will assume that their decision is valid as well — just like Burger King going on the same corner as McDonald’s,” Millar said.

Catawba County is developing its own setting for data centers on a 200-acre site about 20 miles from Lenoir. The area was once known for furniture making, an industry that has taken a hit because of low-wage competition from overseas, Millar noted.

In more recent years, the county has been home to a fiber-optic industry that makes 40% of the world’s supply of fiber-optic cable, he said. In 1999, about 10,000 people were locally employed in that industry, but following the dot-com bust, that number was cut in half. Employment has picked up since then, Millar said.

But he isn’t assuming that Google’s decision alone will be enough to draw other data centers to the area. Millar attended the AFCOM Data Center World conference in Las Vegas late last month to make contacts and tout the virtues of his region.

“I think the fishing is pretty good,” said Millar, referring to his networking prospects at the conference — not the lakes and streams back home in North Carolina.

The conference drew several economic development officials looking to attract employers to their regions. They included Pierre Leclercq, director of business development for Belgium, and Bob Cook, president of the El Paso Regional Economic Development Corp. in Texas.

Millar said that North Carolina may be attractive as a location for data centers because of its power costs — 4.5 cents to 5 cents per kilowatt-hour, compared with 6 cents to 11 cents per kilowatt-hour in other areas of the country.

In addition, Millar noted that Catawba has a strong electric grid infrastructure, which was built to support furniture makers.

Relocating or building a data center far from corporate headquarters is a move only large companies are likely to undertake, according to AFCOM attendees.

Copyright © 2007 IDG Communications, Inc.

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