North Carolina officials are falling over themselves today to brag about their new friend: Facebook.
The social-networking site plans to build a $450 million data center in western North Carolina, joining similar facilities open or coming soon from Google and Apple.
Facebook executives joined state and local officials in announcing the project this morning in Rutherford County, about 65 miles west of Charlotte. The offices of Gov. Bev Perdue and U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan sent out press releases within minutes. Perdue sent out a tweet at 11:55 a.m.
Facebook is receiving $1.4 million in incentives from Rutherford County.
The company is also getting an economic development grant from the county that could be worth $10 million if Facebook meets investment goals.
The project won't be a big job engine. The facility is expected to eventually employ 42 people and must pay more than $13.45 an hour, the Rutherford County average. But it reinforces the state's reputation as a new hub for the high-tech economy.
“After a rigorous review of sites across the East Coast, we are pleased to locate our new data center in Rutherford County," said Tom Furlong, Facebook's Director of Site Operations. "The team we will hire here will help us provide faster, more reliable and more robust service to people around the world who rely on Facebook to connect and share.”
The job descriptions include everything from janitors to technical workers who will maintain the data center’s sophisticated equipment.
Construction is expected to start as soon as Friday and take about 18 months. It will be Facebook's second data center. The company announced plans this year to open one in Oregon.
The data centers will help store information for the company's more than 500 million users.
This state is attracting data centers in part because of its cheap and reliable electricity. Lawmakers also passed a new set of incentives this summer that provided extra tax breaks.
Critics question the wisdom of using future tax money to lure some of the world's richest tech companies.
Part of the reason the Rutherford site was attractive, Furlong said in an interview with the Charlotte Observer's Kristin Valle, was the potential for growth there.
“The opportunity to expand it will always be dependent upon how our business continues growing,” he said. “We will definitely keep an eye on it.”
In addition, Furlong said Facebook plans to stay at the facility “quite a while,” though he acknowledged it’s difficult to predict that because of how quickly the industry changes.
Furlong said the facility was a win for the region, despite its relatively low number of jobs created.
Not only will there be 250-plus construction jobs for the next 1 1/2 years, but the project is also adding permanent workers who will either live in the community or commute there, pouring money into the local economy through hotel room rentals, restaurants and other expenses.
“Also, when we select a location like this, other companies tend to notice,” Furlong said. “It serves as a little bit of a lighthouse for those types of things. … It certainly puts Rutherford on the map.”