Big business has always been the center for many communities around the world. Industries make cities. Resources make entire countries. From the coal towns of West Virginia to the automakers of Detroit, companies and industries have been able to put people to work, to keep taxes flowing for the government, and to build the personality of a community through the various projects associated with the companies.
Tech is different. With technology, you don’t have to center around a resource. Proximity to infrastructure has less of an effect. You don’t even really need a strong workforce in many cases. With tech companies, communities can be built just about anywhere because they aren’t held back by physical restrictions.
It appears that the newest major boost to a community is going to happen in Altoona, Iowa, where the Des Moines Register is citing officials who are tagging Facebook as the mystery benefactor building a $1.5 billion data center in the town of just over 15,000 people. The city is close enough to be considered part of Des Moines, so the workforce to support the 1.4 million square foot facility.
The Iowa Economic Development Authority Board and Altoona’s City Council are expected to consider incentives for the project on Tuesday. State leaders have repeatedly declined to comment about the project. Facebook also has declined to comment.
What does this say about Facebook? It means that they’re following in the footsteps of companies like Google and Microsoft who have given similar spotlights to small cities around the world. It means much more for the community than just being a cheap source of open land and qualified people. It means an identity. This is something that large tech companies should be doing more often.
There’s really only one reason for the rise and sustained popularity of places like Silicon Valley in the San Francisco Bay area and Silicon Alley in the New York City area. It’s where the talent is. Having high-level tech people living in the cities with dreams of building the next Facebook is a must for progressive companies which is why they’re willing to pay salaries much higher than if they were situated elsewhere, why they pay extreme tax rates, and why they make deals with politicians to get favorable placement. It’s a shoving match in the tech capitals because they have to stay aggressive to be competitive.
With things that do not require as high of a level of expertise, the inner regions of the country are ideal. Iowa, Nebraska, Oklahoma and the like are less expensive in every way. This is where the big companies are putting their bodies. If Silicon Valley is the brains of a tech company, the heartland is, well, the heart. It’s the driving force that can pump the technological blood through the company and out to the consumers.
This is important in a time when placing structure and jobs in other countries is frowned upon. It may be cheaper to just build a data center in Canada or on another continent, but the repercussions would be harsh.
The heartland is the future of technology. Will a data center pop up close to you?