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What Happens When Big Tech’s Datacenters Come to Small Towns?

Few big tech companies that are building and hiring across America bring that wealth with them when they set up in new communities. Instead, they hire armies of low-paid contractors, many of whom are not guaranteed a job from one month to the next; some of the contracting companies have a history of alleged mistreatment of workers. Nor do local governments share in the companies’ wealth; instead, the tech giants negotiate deals — the details protected by non-disclosure agreements — that exempt them from paying taxes that would fund schools, roads and fire departments….

Globally, by the end of 2020, there were nearly 600 “hyperscale” data centers, where a single company runs thousands of servers and rents out cloud space to customers. That’s more than double the number from 2015. Amazon, Google and Microsoft account for more than half of those hyperscale centers, making data centers one more field dominated by America’s richest and biggest companies… Google in March said it was “investing in America” with a plan to spend $7 billion across 19 states to build more data centers and offices. Microsoft said in April that it plans to build 50 to 100 data centers each year for the foreseeable future. Amazon recently got approval to build 1.75 million square feet of data-center space in Northern Virginia, beyond the 50 data centers it already operates there. Facebook said this year it would spend billions to expand data centers in Iowa, Georgia and Utah; in March it said it was adding an 11th building to its largest data-center facility in rural Prineville, Oregon…

Facebook has spent more than $2 billion expanding its operations in Prineville, but because of the tax incentives it negotiated with local officials, the company paid a total of just $119,403.42 in taxes to Crook County last year, according to the County Assessor’s list of top taxpayers. That’s less than half the taxes paid by Brasada Ranch, a local resort. And according to the Oregon Bureau of Labor and Industries, the data center has been the subject of numerous labor complaints… “I’ve spent way too much of my life watching city councils say, ‘We need a big tech company to show that we’re future-focused,'” says Sebastian Moss, the editor of Data Center Dynamics, which tracks the industry. Towns will give away tax breaks worth hundreds of millions of dollars, his reporting has found, and then express gratitude toward tech companies that have donated a few thousand computers — worth a fraction of the tax breaks — to their cash-strapped school systems. “I sometimes wonder if they’re preying on desperation, going to places that are struggling.”

Communities give up more than tax breaks when they welcome tech companies. Data centers use huge amounts of water to cool computer equipment, yet they’re being built in the drought-stricken American West.

The article cites Bureau of Labor Statistics showing that 373,300 Americans were working in data processing, hosting, and related services in June — up 52% from 10 years ago.

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