They can be quiet and unobtrusive. But they also are a powerhouse of activity and can be game-changing for a local and regional economy.
This was the consensus several area economic development experts shared recently on data centers. The comments came on the heels of Facebook’s announcement June 30 it was investing $800 million into a new data center in DeKalb.
The social media giant’s entry into Central Illinois comes at a time when state officials have been targeting data centers to spur additional economic activity. Last year, Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed the data center tax incentive program, which is being administered through the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity.
Tim Nugent, president and CEO of the Economic Alliance of Kankakee County, said Facebook’s decision is a sign there is interest in establishing a data center outside the immediate Chicago area. Facebook’s announcement is a shift away from some of the more recent trends.
“They’ve kind of congregated over in the O’Hare and Rosemont area for one reason or another,” Nugent said of other data centers within the state. “I was surprised and delighted to see that they’re looking for land that is a little farther out from the main hub of the city.”
While he had “no real comment on the DeKalb deal,” John Greuling, president and CEO of the Will County Center for Economic Development, said he and others within the organization were pleased to see there was interest in the area.
“We certainly believe projects like that benefit the entire region and are happy to see the announcement,” Greuling said.
At a time of rapid consumer change, Greuling and Nugent agree data centers can be important economic drivers in the road ahead — particularly as technological advancements continue moving at a meteoric pace.
“They’re obviously the center of the future,” said Nugent, who also serves as mayor of Manteno. “You don’t get a ton of employment. But the amount of money that’s spent inside those facilities — that’s where the real money is spent.”
When the state’s data center tax incentive program was first announced, Greuling said he championed it because of the possibilities it poses.
“Data centers are a target business for us, like most economic development organizations in the state,” Greuling said. “The CED was certainly supportive of Illinois’ data center tax incentive and glad to see it put to use. We believe it is necessary to attract other data center projects to the state.”
In the Facebook news release, state officials within the Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity cited infrastructure — more specifically, the accessibility of renewable energy — within DeKalb as one of the reasons the company is laying roots in the community.
The scenario, Nugent said, could be a positive for Kankakee County if a company is seeking similar amenities for a data center.
“I think Kankakee County is well positioned if companies are looking for that,” Nugent said. “We’ve got a lot of alternative energies that are up and going, and in the works. If data centers are looking for that kind of energy, Kankakee County is well suited for that.”
Facebook’s data center in DeKalb is expected to bring 100 permanent jobs, in addition to hundreds of construction jobs as the facility is being built.
While they do not necessarily yield the massive employment numbers associated with manufacturing and other sectors, Nugent said data centers still provide multiple benefits to a community.
“They generate a lot of real estate tax,” Nugent said. “The investment is really where it’s a home run because of the amount of dollars that’s spent inside that facility for equipment.”