DeKALB – Countywide leaders are heralding the news that the world’s largest social media network, Facebook, intends to build an $800 million data center with 100% renewable energy on DeKalb’s south side, saying it’ll bring the types of jobs and subsequent industry long needed to boost the region’s economy.
“The media play has been unbelievable,” DeKalb Mayor Jerry Smith said Tuesday. “It is huge for the region, it really is. It’s a good news day.”
Smith said he knew the deal – discussed for months under the code name Project Ventus – was sealed a few weeks ago when Facebook contacted the city to set up a video shoot to promote the announcement virtually, done with Gov. JB Pritzker in lieu of an official news conference because of crowd restrictions from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Facebook’s staff came to DeKalb to record the video with Smith in the historic Egyptian Theatre and DeKalb City Manager Bill Nicklas at the Ellwood House.
As far as Jerry Krusinski, CEO of Krusinski Construction Company, is concerned, bringing tech giant Facebook to DeKalb has been a 14-year effort for the ChicagoWest Business Center, along Route 23 and Gurler Road, soon home to Ferrara Candy Company, which announced in February its intent to build a $100 million candy manufacturing and distribution center, bringing with it 500 jobs in Phase 1 of the plan. His company began work on the site 14 years ago with a vision that it would be a space for highly technical industry to put DeKalb on the map.
“We recognized the potential of this location for mission-critical data centers given its proximity to transmission voltage electrical power, abundant water supply, essential sanitary capacity, multiple broadband carriers, easy access to interstate transportation, accessible utilities, and ready workforce,” Krusinski said in a news release Tuesday. “We are totally engaged in delivering on the first phase of this development as we provide the utility infrastructure and roadwork improvements necessary to make the project a success.”
Nicklas said the biggest stumbling block over the years has been at the state level.
“Illinois did not have an incentive package that was competitive with what was offered in other states for data centers specifically,” Nicklas said. “Then in the spring of 2019 when the data center bill was approved and Gov. Pritzker signed it into law, fairly shortly after that this company came.”
Nicklas referred to SB1591, legislation which approved tax exemptions specifically for data centers in the state, in an effort to entice such industry known in part to bring with it subsequent revenue and other industry interest.
“I think its transformative,” Nicklas said. “I think first of all that Ferrara’s commitment was a tremendous boon to the area, a national and worldwide company that was looking to build a complex of such scope as they are building. It was also a commitment to our area in terms of the labor force and utilities and infrastructure. What Ventus does, and it’s not better it’s just different, it brings a focus on highly technical processes that are the future in terms of how we communicate with one another so it goes not just to the product which in their case is a platform, it’s how people communicate.”
Area educational institution leaders, who’ve in the past voiced support for the project, touted its promise in creating a workforce pipeline directly from places such as Northern Illinois University and Kishwaukee College to funnel into Facebook’s workforce, whether it be the 100 jobs expected to pay $38.50 per hour (as part of the 20-year 55% tax abatement Facebook agreed to through the DeKalb County Enterprise Zone), or subsequent construction labor expected as the facility is built.
“NIU is excited about Facebook coming to DeKalb, because of their commitment to our region and the potential to create new opportunities together,” NIU President Lisa Freeman in a statement to the Daily Chronicle. “We look forward to developing strategic collaborations focused on innovation, talent development and community sustainability.”
Laurie Borowicz, president of Kish College, echoed Freeman’s sentiments Tuesday.
“The announcement of the Facebook data center is great news for the city of DeKalb and our local communities,” Borowicz said. “Kishwaukee College offers a variety of learning opportunities in the area of Information Technology, from short-term training programs to associates degrees. I look forward to learning more about their workforce needs in the coming weeks and how we can support them. The college is committed to providing the necessary educational programs to meet the needs of area employers.”
Significant site construction will be underway in the coming months and years, as ChicagoWest prepares for both Ferrara and Facebook.
Widening of Gurler Road was made possible in part because of funds secured at the state level from the Illinois Department of Transportation, said state Reps. Jeff Keicher, R-Sycamore, and Tom Demmer, R-Dixon, who released a joint statement Tuesday.
“We have both said that creating jobs is one of our top priorities,” the statement reads. “As part of the bipartisan capital bill approved by the General Assembly last year, we were able to enact pro-business reforms that have laid the groundwork for thousands of new jobs in our region for years to come. Specifically, these reforms included the creation of the Blue Collar Jobs Act to attract large-scale construction; reinstatement of the Manufacturer’s Purchase Credit to encourage further investments in manufacturing in Illinois; elimination of the Franchise Tax, and the Data Center Tax Incentive.”
Krusinski Construction Company crews will work to construct more than two miles of roadway improvement including a truck-rated roundabout and a four-way signalized intersection at Facebook’s site, three miles of 16-inch water main to prepare for the data center’s renewable energy cooling capabilities – since fiber optics in the facility require constant cooling down and the efficiency of the facility allows for less water to be used, said Bobby Hollis, director of global energy, environment and site selection for Facebook.
Krusinski also plans to work on a 1.5-mile deep gravity trunk sewer – which helps with water runoff at the site – which will have the capacity to handle in excess of four million gallons per day, Krusinski said.