Home From the Old to the New: Data Centers Rise Along the Columbia River

From the Old to the New: Data Centers Rise Along the Columbia River

Amazon.com is buying more land in Oregon, showing again why the the Pacific Northwest is a choice region for companies such as Google, Facebook and T-Mobile to build data centers.

According to Data Center Knowledge, Amazon has already built a data center in Boardman, Oregon, along the Columbia River. It also recently acquired land at the Port of Umatlla, also along the Columbia.

Google opened its first data data in 2006 in The Dalles, Oregon, downstream from Boardman. Facebook is building a data center in Prineville, located in central Oregon.

The Columbia River snakes through the Pacific Northwest, forming the border between Oregon and Washington. It’s the main reason why the data economy is blooming in Oregon and Washington and in the process, changing the dynamics of this region’s rural economy.

The data center construction also due to some tax incentives. From Enterprise IT Planet:

“Interestingly, it’s not the climate that draws these companies. Oregon is also apparently doling out some pretty sweet incentives for the companies to locate there. Facebook, for example (which only paid $3 million for the 124 acres of land), has an agreement with the state to be charged property tax on the unimproved value of the land for the next 15 years, about $25,000 a year. The data center is expected to cost around $175 million, so paying tax on only the unimproved value of the land will save millions. In fact, the WSJ points out that Facebook will save over $3 million a year in property taxes, or $45 million over the life of the tax abatement. That’s a pretty awesome deal for Facebook.”

The Columbia provides the water that generates cheap electricity. For decades, the Columbia has served as a power resource. In the pre and post-World War II economies, aluminum smelting plants depended on the Columbia for the cheap electricity it provided. Communities up and down the Columbia depended on the jobs that these heavy industrial plants provided. These companies have over time become deeply embedded into the culture of communities like Troutdale, Or., home to Reynolds High School. Reynolds was named for Reynolds Metals, which became a household name for its aluminum foil. Smelters also provided aluminum for the building of the industrial economy. It sold to companies such as Boeing, which used the metal to build World War II bombers.

According to the Northwest Council:

“Through the 1950s and 1960s the industry prospered and the number of aluminum smelters grew to 10. At full operation, the plants employed around 11,000 people, a small percentage of the region’s workers. But the jobs paid well, and the plants had benefits for Bonneville and the Northwest. They consumed large amounts of hydroelectricity at steady rates of demand, thus providing significant income to Bonneville and operational consistency for the dams. They provided economic benefits to the communities where they were located, communities as diverse as rural Goldendale, Washington, and Columbia Falls, Montana, and as urban as Spokane and Tacoma.”

The data centers lining the Columbia and the interior Pacific Northwest now serve as the next generation of electricity consumers that also provide products for consumers and businesses. Google uses its data centers to provide apps such as GMail and Google Apps is for business.

Like its predecessors, Facebook and the others are consuming unprecedented amounts of power.

But perhaps the biggest shift is to the people of this region. The data centers do provide jobs. They are not huge employers but the positions are high paying ones.

It may not be a lot of jobs but for rural economies, every bit helps, especially in this tough economy.

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