Stable Grid, Internet Draws Facebook Data Center to Atlanta

The region has attracted many large tech-centric companies looking to draw on its utility assets.

by J. Scott Trubey, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution / March 9, 2018
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(TNS) — Facebook confirmed plans on Wednesday for a sprawling data center campus east of Atlanta, a major investment in the state for a critical piece of the social media giant’s internet infrastructure.

The project, Facebook’s ninth data center in the U.S., is expected to employ 100 in its first phase and will rise at Stanton Springs near the Shire pharmaceutical plant along I-20, about 40 miles east of Atlanta.

Construction is slated to start later this month and the facility will open in early 2020. Facebook’s interest in the site became public in January, but the company had previously declined to confirm its involvement.

The nearly 1 million-square-foot center is the first phase of the project, which could expand as its data needs grow, said Rachel Peterson, Facebook vice president of data center strategy. The center will help connect the company’s apps and services to more than 2 billion people across the globe, she said.

Jobs include data center engineers, facilities operations managers, security and other roles. Pay was not disclosed.

Incentives involved in courting the project weren’t immediately known.

The Atlanta area has been a hot bed for data center development in recent years, given its stable power grid and fiber internet infrastructure and growing population base. The region also is less prone to natural disasters such as earthquakes and hurricanes.

The explosion of personal and business data usage — from streaming video to connected devices — means more data center space is needed.

In recent years, Google announced a big server farm complex in Douglas County, and operator Switch announced plans in 2017 for a $2.5 billion campus in Douglas as well.

Data centers generally come with big price tags because of their sophisticated hardware and infrastructure needs. They create large numbers of temporary construction jobs, and Facebook’s will be no different, but they ultimately create relatively few permanent jobs compared to factories or corporate headquarters.

Pat Wilson, the state’s commissioner of economic development, said Wednesday’s announcement culminates more than a year of discussions between the social media company, local and state agencies and area utilities.

Data centers typically require vast amounts of power. This facility, Facebook said, will be powered completely by clean and renewable energy sources in partnership with Walton EMC.

Gov. Nathan Deal and other state leaders pointed to the decision by Facebook to invest $750 million in the campus over the next five years as a gold-plated endorsement of Georgia’s business climate and technology scene.

It also comes as state and Atlanta area leaders pitch Amazon for the e-commerce giant’s second headquarters project.

That bid took a beating in the national press after lawmakers and Delta Air Lines found themselves in a very public battle over the carrier’s decision to end a discount program for National Rifle Association members after a deadly Florida school shooting.

In response, conservative lawmakers stripped an airline jet fuel sales tax break from a broader state tax overhaul. The sparring led leaders in other states to pitch Delta on moving its headquarters, though Delta has said it proudly remains an Atlanta-based company.

Wednesday’s announcement gave Deal and other leaders something else to talk about.

Deal was asked after the press conference to answer those who believe the Delta flap might dash Georgia’s chances for HQ2 and 50,000 Amazon jobs.

“I look forward to proving them wrong,” Deal said.

©2018 The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Atlanta, Ga.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.