Facebook announced plans overnight to begin construction of a $450 million data center in North Carolina, one of a growing list of companies converging on the state amid the push toward centrally storing vast amounts of digital data - a concept called cloud computing.
"This is a game-changer," said Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton, who joined representatives from Facebook and local officials at the site near Forest City, about 60 miles west of Charlotte. Speaking with The Associated Press by telephone, he declared North Carolina "open for business in the 21st century."
The data center will take about 18 months to build and construction will start Friday, said Facebook Director of Site Operations Tom Furlong. It's the second data center Facebook has built in the U.S., following one in Prineville, Ore.
The company expects the construction phase to generate as many as 250 jobs during that time, while the data center will have between 35 and 45 full-time employees.
State Commerce Secretary J. Keith Crisco said he's optimistic this will be the first of several Facebook projects in the state.
North Carolina is becoming a popular location for data centers, essentially huge collections of Internet servers capable of processing tremendous amounts of digital traffic. The Facebook announcement follows decisions by Apple, Google, IBM, SAS and American Express to establish similar facilities in the state.
Data centers are growing in importance amid the emergence of cloud computing, where information that once was kept on individual computers is stored in central locations to make it available more economically and on demand.
North Carolina has a combination of natural and man-made advantages that draw data centers, state officials say, including relatively inexpensive energy costs - a key factor for facilities that can draw as much electricity as a city of 50,000. Another is its mild climate: extremes of cold and heat are a challenge for facilities with huge amounts of sensitive electronic equipment.
North Carolina lawmakers have passed a number of tax incentives specifically aimed at data centers.
"Quite frankly, when we want them to come here, we go after them," Crisco said.
The Facebook data center, while providing a relatively small increase in overall jobs, is a morale booster for its host community, Rutherford County. Once a busy corner of the state's textile industry, the county roughly midway between Charlotte and Asheville has lost thousands of jobs in the last 15 years as the clothing industry has moved outside the United States.
"We always took great pride in the fact that we clothed the world," said Dalton, a native of the county.
"Those jobs are now gone with the changing economy, but today shows we're still a great place to do business."