Viewpoint: How rural cities can attract corporate data centers
With technology infrastructure demanding more power and cooling than ever before, companies are looking to build more robust data centers. Local governments in rural areas have several advantages that can help them capitalize on the demand, and attract high-tech companies and the jobs they create.
More than 50 percent of data centers will run out of power within the next five years, and 60 percent will run out of cooling ability, according to a November 2009 New York-based Uptime Institute report. Additionally, the loss of factories and businesses in rural areas has led to excess power on the local utility grid, which can be available quickly and continuously for a modern data center. The combination of those market trends can be the starting point for rural governments and utility companies to work together to develop technology parks that will attract high-end, corporate data centers.
The first data center in a technology park would require approximately $30 million in investment, which may be funded entirely by the utility with direct capital or partially through electricity rebates. For cities, the investment might come in the form of infrastructure development (roads, sewers, etc.), a reduction or elimination of server and IT equipment taxes, or tax incremental financing to any business that brings its data center to the park.
A pre-engineered technology park should include 50 or more acres of land, with ample electrical power (10 megawatts or more) and a fiber optic infrastructure. Data centers that serve disaster recovery functions will be attracted to a technology park that is located 30 to 100 miles or more from an urban environment because being outside the urban electrical grid provides an additional layer of safety in the event of a major power outage.
Communities in cooler climates have a unique advantage. Technology parks are migrating to areas like northern Illinois and Michigan because the climate allows for “free cooling.” Data center facilities can include mechanical systems that use an airside economizer to import cool outside air to support the facility’s systems and demand, reducing operational costs.
The loss of traditional industries has led to a loss of economic development opportunities in many rural areas. Properly planned technology parks can help reverse that trend for some communities.
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Paul Schlattman is vice president of the Mission Critical Facilities Group at Chicago-based Environmental Systems Design, Inc. He is responsible for business development, project administration and the strategic planning of data centers, financial facilities, calls centers and other related projects. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.