DeKalb will soon be home to a massive Facebook data center, and local government and business officials expect it to benefit the local economy.
Facebook made the announcement at the end of June, and has begun construction of the facility on the edge of town south of Interstate 88. The response by the city and local business has been positive.
Bill Nicklas is the DeKalb city manager. He said the scale of the project is extensive.
“They’re going to be building a 40,000-square foot building that in the short run can be used for offices for the various trades, and the general contractor and subs, and then over time as they’re open, then that building will be used for their own employees.”
There will also be employee amenities, such as a commissary, an electrical substation, and more specialized buildings.
“They call them data halls," Nicklas said. "They’re large H-shaped buildings with long wings on both sides and then a connecting piece in between which would be more for administration and office.”
Nicklas said one of the most direct local benefits will be adding to the tax base.
“If most industrial facilities are valued at about $45-48 per square foot, these facilities will be valued at roughly twice that amount.”
Matt Duffy is the executive director of the DeKalb Chamber of Commerce. He said the data center’s employees add value to the community, too.
“For those that are out of town, they’re still going to be here during the day buying gas, buying food, doing things like that to impact our economy positively," said Duffy. "Obviously in some cases as we get closer, more people buying houses and expanding our tax base. Those types of things.”
Building the data center is expected to take two years and employ around 1,000 workers. Duffy said once the center is complete, it can help attract higher-skilled workers to the local economy. This includes students at Northern Illinois University.
“So whether it’s for students that are looking to come here and stay here," he said, "or maybe they’re coming here and not sure what they want to do, and they’re able to be in contact with a company like that in close proximity -- then they’ll want to stay here and keep some of that highly educated talent here locally with opportunities like that.”
Outside of economic benefits, Nicklas said there are different ways the social media giant might invest in the region and community. Facebook already plans to build renewable energy sources, such as wind turbines and solar panels, to offset what it takes from the power grid. Nicklas said the company is also working on a grant program for community partnerships. That, he says, could lead to other opportunities.
“They want their employees to live in town. They want them to immerse themselves in volunteer work and the community and schools and so forth," Nicklas said. "Because of that, they want to be a partner when local taxing bodies and social service agencies are looking to collaborate.”
But the data center, particularly its construction, isn’t without practical challenges. Nicklas said one of these is water drainage.
“Most of the stormwater runoff was natural, went through the tiles that went through the farming of the land for many years," he said. "It wasn’t controlled in the sense that we do in the urban environments where it goes into pipes and is slowed and goes into retention ponds, and so forth. Now that’s what’s going to happen with these buildings.”
Because of the length of construction, building the data center will have a long-term effect on nearby roads. Part of this will be more construction traffic south of I-88. But Nicklas said portions of a local street, Crego Road, that went through what is now Facebook’s campus, were decommissioned.
“The City, in cooperation with the State of Illinois, is building a twin to that extension just on the east side of Facebook so that we can restore a North-South route between Keslinger and Gurler roads, and that should be done next year.”
And then there’s the land itself. Kris Reynolds is the midwest regional director of the American Farmland Trust. He said if the company were to withdraw, reversing these construction projects is easier said than done.
“When something is converted to urban or highly developed land, what we call the UHD, that land is really hard to bring back into production,” said Reynolds.
Nevertheless, Nicklas is excited about DeKalb being chosen as a site for a Facebook data center.
“Having the ability to say that we’re only one of 12 campuses in the country and 16 in the world is a lot to brag about," said Nicklas, "and DeKalb residents and DeKalb County residents should be very proud of that.”
He’s also excited for what it might bring to the area further down the road.