Data centers aren’t the answer to Reno’s woes

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After years of a declining gambling industry, Reno, Nevada — the so-called biggest little city in the world — is looking to remake itself, and part of that plan will include data centers. The New York Times takes a look at how Reno is looking to revitalize, and has attracted a huge data center storage facility from Apple on the outskirts of the city.

But, as I reported in this 4-part series last week, while data centers can create hundreds, or even a thousand, jobs during the year-long construction phase, data centers generally employ just 50 to 70 full-time workers when they are up and running. Apple’s data center in Maiden, North Carolina employed 67 full time “badged” workers in first year of operation; Facebook has 60 full-time workers for the first building of its two-building data center complex in Forest City, North Carolina. And these full time jobs tend to be very specialized, and don’t necessarily pull from a local economically-depressed community.

While data centers might not be the answer to providing jobs to a local population with a high unemployment rate, attracting a number of data centers to an area can have other, more intangible, benefits. Data centers buy power — a lot of it — and are attractive customers for the region’s utilities, which in turn provide jobs. And when the Internet company that is building the data center is a powerful influencer — as Apple is — other companies tend to follow in their footsteps and could also bring their data centers to the area.

Apple’s data center will be built in the Reno Technology Park, which is the largest dedicated data center campus in North America, and was started three years ago, according to long-time data center developer executive K.C. Mares, who worked on the deal. The Reno Technology Park will be unique in that it will have its own water and electrical systems, there will be 1 GW of local electrical generation, and much of that will come from natural gas or clean energy, said Mares.

Apple isn’t the only company that will build on the Reno Technology Park. Mares tells me that his development group is in discussions with other tenants to build there too. Some of those companies may build data centers larger than the one that Apple will build, says Mares. If the Park can bring in a number of high-profile data center tenants, it could start to collectively make a dent in the region’s economy. But in terms of jobs for local workers? Data centers just don’t offer enough to turn around a slumping city.

Image courtesy of Jcantroot.

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