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Local

Breaking: Facebook to build $800M data center on DeKalb's south side

DeKALB – Facebook is coming to DeKalb, and will build its 16th data center in the world on 505 acres in DeKalb's south side, along Route 23 and Gurler Road across from the ChicagoWest Business Center.

The social media giant will invest $800 million into a 907,000-square-foot facility, the 12th to be built in the United States, which will be dubbed the Facebook DeKalb Data Center, according to a news release from the company.

DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith and Gov. JB Pritzker joined Facebook for an announcement video in lieu of traditional groundbreaking celebrations due to crowd restrictions from the COVID-19 pandemic, the release states.

“Today, we’re proud to celebrate that DeKalb will be Facebook’s newest home,” said DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith. “It’s a boon to our community, and once online, this data center will be part of a network that connects people all over the world. We hope that the ripple effect of Facebook’s decision will be a catalyst for more companies to see all that DeKalb and this region have to offer.”

Founded in 2004, the world's largest social network is headquartered in Menlo Park, California, employs more than 48,000 people across the world, and operates data centers in: Iowa, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Oregon, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, Nebraska, Alabama, Georgia, Denmark, Singapore, Ireland and Sweden.

The development, under the code name Project Ventus, has been a fixture of the City of DeKalb and countywide business community for months now, as tax abatements and local workforce development funnels from Northern Illinois University and Kishwaukee College have been touted to entice the company to put down roots on 505 acres of land across from the ChicagoWest Business Center, soon home to Ferrara Candy Company, announced in February.

“There are many variables that enter into the decision process for data center locations, and DeKalb provided many compelling reasons for Facebook to bring our newest data center to Illinois,” said Rachel Peterson, Vice President of Data Center Strategy for Facebook. “We’re so thankful to the City of DeKalb, the DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation, the Illinois Department of Commerce & Economic Opportunity, and all of our community partners for their diligence and enthusiasm throughout this process. We are proud to join the DeKalb community and look forward to a strong relationship for years to come.”

Hiring

At the project's peak, Facebook officials estimate the site constriction will employ 1,200 construction and trade workers which will span the two to three years it will take to get the first building up and running. For data center jobs – which could start at $38.50 per hour according to city documents – Facebook plans to hire technicians, engineers, construction management, facility managers, logistics professors and security personnel.

The development also comes with tax abatement provisions attached, per intergovernmental agreements signed by countywide taxing bodies over a period of a few months this spring.

The Facebook data center will be privy to a 20-year, 55% property tax abatement plan, already approved by the council and agreed upon through the DeKalb County Enterprise Zone, a program administered by the DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation, with a stipulation of 50 tech jobs with a starting wage of $38.50 an hour to qualify for tax abatements within the first few years, documents show.

Over the next 20 years, city officials have said the data center is projected to yield tax revenue for the participating taxing bodies, even with the tax abatements, that is comparable to the five largest existing industrial companies in DeKalb (Target distribution, 3M, Panduit, Nestle, Goodyear) combined, documents show.

Minnesota-based Mortenson Construction is the general contractor for the project. Facebook is also partnering with the city, Kishwaukee Water Reclamation District to design the site, and Krusinski Construction Company to build and provide support for infrastructure, which will include nearly three miles of water lines, one and a half miles of sewer extension and repaving local roads.

As part of ongoing construction for Ferrara's site along with Facebook's, Gurler Road is also undergoing a road widening project, paid in part through funds secured by the Illinois Department of Transportation.

It's the kind of cutting edge tech development that can transform a region, said Bobby Hollis, director of global energy, environment and site selection for Facebook. Hollis said "without a doubt" cities which house a Facebook data center have seen a correlating rise in similar industries coming.

"If you looked at most of the places where we have actually constructed a data center, usually it's not long afterwards that we see other technology companies," Hollis said. "You can look at Iowa as a great example, it's well over five years into its process currently. Microsoft is also building in the same community, and Google was there before us."

He said Facebook looks to hire local because local workers know the lay of the land better, and other data center locations have found ways to utilize local workforce development pipelines as well, whether with local education institutions or otherwise.

"When we come to a community we are looking to be part of that community, and that includes the workforce that we want at our location," Hollis said. "It actually isn't very easy to hire from outside of the community because we do have an expectation that people will come here and live here for many years, people will have kids in the schools, spouses that participate in the community."

How it works

Hollis said DeKalb was chosen specifically because of its connectivity to land resources and water connections, but also partnerships from countywide and city officials who worked for months to pave the way for the social network to build.

The data center's build will be a years-long process, Hollis said, and the goal is for it to expand naturally as need expands. The site will store the computers needed to process Facebook's tech sites, including Facebook and the Facebook Messenger app, Instagram and Whatsapp, to allow for better usage regardless of how the user is utilizing the sites, on their phones, computers or tablets.

"It's not a one and done for us," Hollis said. "If you look at the other places, we come in with an expectation of getting the first building online as quickly as we possibly can. As our company looks to serve our community better, its really around creating that infrastructure that can be deployed and serve those communities."

Storing computers that house that much data takes an equally complex cooling system, which is why the site will be 100% renewable energy, Hollis said, including its water and electrical components. The center won't just service DeKalb and the surrounding communities, but because of its digital capabilities, it will service users all over the world.

Water is used for cooling the computer systems down as they run continuously, though the efficiency of the site and subsequent plumbing – designed with the help of the Kishwaukee Water Reclamation District – means that less water is needed to act as a cooling agent, Hollis said.

"It's 80% more water efficient than a typical data center," Hollis said.

He said Facebook already has a large office in Chicago, but the goal was to continue to expand outward into DeKalb.

"This is a great opportunity for us to really be part of a different community," he said. "We're really excited to come to DeKalb, everybody has been an incredible partner."

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