Data Firms Flocking to Mesa, Ariz., Technology Corridor

Mesa’s Elliot Road Technology Corridor, which was once an isolated swath of open desert on the city’s eastern fringe, is now booming as proposed data centers multiply and years of planning pay off.

by Jim Walsh, East Valley Tribune / October 14, 2019
Shutterstock/Timofeev Vladimir

(TNS) — The Mesa, Ariz., Elliot Road Technology Corridor, once an isolated swath of open desert on the city’s eastern fringe, is now booming as proposed data centers multiply and years of planning pay off.

Five companies bought land and several are pursuing construction plans.

Raging Wire won planning and zoning approvals from Mesa in the past two weeks – a green light for constructing a 1.5-million-square-foot campus with seven buildings.

“We’re the little guys,’’ said Paul Martin, senior design project manager for Raging Wire, after Mesa’s Design Review Board praised the company’s architectural plans.

But everything is relative and is especially true in the highly competitive digital tech world.

Martin compares his company to such powerhouses like Apple, which already operates a data center in the corridor, and Google, which secured tax incentives to its own massive data center.

Martin said Raging Wire’s business is different. It builds data centers and attracts smaller companies and Google to rent space to eventually accommodate rows of servers to process all kinds of data.

“It’s a great project. It’s great for the city of Mesa,’’ said Randy Carter, chairman of the Design Review Board, which reviews the architectural quality and landscaping of proposed buildings.

While Raging Wire might not be a famous name, it is far from an insignificant company.

It is a subsidiary of NTT, a global Japanese communications company operating data centers in California, Texas, Chicago and Virginia.

Bill Jabjiniak, Mesa’s economic development director, said the boom is no coincidence and represents eight years of planning to lure the high-tech companies and their high-paying jobs to Mesa.

“I would tell you this is a vision that started eight years ago,’’ Jabjiniak said, saying it was back then that he and his colleagues started assembling the infrastructure vital to data centers.

Jabjiniak listed the three critical elements that laid the groundwork for what is happening today:

The relatively cheap power from the Salt River Project, because electricity is the biggest cost to data centers is a big draw. A data center representative said SRP power is 50 percent less expensive than power in California.

Alos citing availability of redundant fiber for Internet access as a desireable criteria. Mesa invested in an “e-streets program years ago,’’ Jabjiniak said, installing empty underground conduits so companies could lay fiber optic cables when necessary.

With streamlined zoning approval, it eliminats months of delays. Mesa created a tech corridor zoning overlay, allowing tech companies to “opt in’’ to the special zoning available and to have plans approved administratively. Public oversight is assured because the City Council must approve a development agreement with the companies before construction begins.

“I think it’s starting to blossom. It’s growing before our eyes,’’ Jabjiniak said. “I think there is more to come.’’

He said the streamlined process “makes it easy for businesses to continue to invest.’’

Arizona’s climate and geography, free of hurricanes, significant earthquakes and other natural disasters, also make the state appealing for data centers, Jabjiniak said.

“You think, ‘why Arizona?’ It’s because of its stable environment,’’ Jabjiniak said.

He said the need for lightning-fast data is burgeoning in a society revolving around cell phones and computers.

The data centers, typical emploing fewer people working for a host of companies, are anticipated to rent space in The Union, a large office complex planned for west Mesa.

Evan Balmer, a Mesa city planner, wrote told the city’s Board of Adjustment that Raging Wire anticipates employing a maximum of 747 employees at build-out, a justification for reducing the number of parking spaces required from more than 2,000 to 796.

The Board of Adjustment approved Raging Wire’s request on Oct. 2.

“According to the applicant, the number of employees needed to run the data center facility is significantly less than a traditional office or warehouse use and will require only parking spaces for those employees. Additionally, any visitors to the site are required to schedule an appointment in advance of arriving at the site,’’ Balmer wrote.

Jabjiniak acknowledged that data centers create fewer jobs than other industries, but said the tech corridor growth will still contribute to a significant increase in high-paying jobs in Mesa.

He noted that the other proposals are similar to Raging Wire, for the most part, in that they typically feature a campus of six to eight buildings.

Eventually, if all the data centers are built, they would create thousands of good jobs, he said

“They are well-paid jobs. I’ll take 700 jobs any day,’’ Jabjiniak said.

He listed the other communications companies that have bought land in Mesa as CyrusOne, EdgeCore, Edgeconnex and Digital Reality. EdgeCore has built a 1.2 million square-foot building in the corridor and touts tax incentives it received to pick Arizona on its website.

Edgeconnex lists a data center in Tempe, near Interstate 10, on its web site. Cyrus One’s web site says that a Phoenix area data center is “coming soon,’’ although most of their facilities are clustered in Texas and Virginia.

Martin praised Mesa for having the foresight to create the right mix of infrastructure to attract data companies.

He said the location near Apple and the planned Google data center is not as important as power from SRP.

“We are all there because of the infrastructure in place. All data centers need to be built where there is reliable and inexpensive power,’’ Martin said.

He said the 102-acre site, which was quietly re-zoned in April and May, also appeals to him because it is off the road and should be conducive to a high level of security – another requirement for data centers.

Martin declined to discuss his financing for the facility or to name potential tenants, but he said he hopes to begin construction by the end of 2019.

Martin said the buildings may have space leased by more than one company and that his customers generally are not large enough to build their own data centers.

Peter Norris, a Boston architect who designed the Raging Wire facility, said he designed the buildings with the corridor’s surroundings in mind.

“I was really inspired by the mountains,’’ Norris said, noting that the only thing that will be visible behind the Raging Wire campus will be a fairly distant view of the Superstition Mountains.

His color scheme included shades of red with blue accents, although he agreed with a suggestion from the board to mix up the colors on other buildings to avoid monotony.

But he also said the buildings are designed for speedy construction to be responsive to market forces.

“Buildings like this go for hundreds of millions of dollars,’’ Norris said. “What we have developed so far is a prototype. The quicker you can build a building, when there is a need, there is an advantage. It’s very competitive.’’

He added that conceptually, “we would like this to be a family of buildings that can be viewed as a campus.’’

©2019 East Valley Tribune (Mesa, Ariz.). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

Platforms & Programs