Data centers meant to diversify state economy

Apr 27, 2012


Wyoming has long been thought of as a state that focuses on energy, tourism and in some circles ranching.  But the state has been trying to also make itself a player in technology.  It started in earnest a few years back that the National Center for Atmospheric Research or NCAR was coming to Wyoming.  The latest push has centered around Data Centers.  Wyoming is offering sales tax incentives and grant money to try and attract them to the state.  Wyoming Public Radio’s Bob Beck reports that many believe they could be an important piece in diversifying the economy.

Bob Beck:   Data that is not stored exclusively at the company is stored in something called a data center.  That could include important records, human resources data and even email.  Some data centers store information for just one company, such as Microsoft, but others handle the data of a number of companies.  Southern Wyoming in particular benefits from a lot of high speed fiber optic capabilities and Wyoming Business Council C-E-O Bob Jensen says that has allowed the state to be aggressive in trying to attract data centers…

Jensen why data:  It also is an industry that is continuing to grow and it’s a terrific diversification play for Wyoming.  It’s not susceptible to two dollar natural gas and so we just saw it as a natural industry to try and take advantage of the resource that was here and build a workforce around it.

In Jensen’s view Data Centers are the perfect Wyoming Business…

Jensen Perfect fit:  They create high wage jobs, highly technical jobs, but not a huge number of those jobs and they also require pretty significant levels of capital investment, both initially and on an ongoing basis.

Beck:  Which means they will create construction types of jobs as well.  Recently Microsoft made a splash by picking Cheyenne as the location for its next Data Center.  Randy Bruns heads up the Cheyenne economic development organization called Cheyenne Leads.  He says this will be a major economic boost for Laramie County.

Randy Bruns:   Their initial project here is going to be 112-million dollars in hard assets.   That’s a 112 million dollar addition to our property base and that’s just the beginning.  They are going to pay taxes on a lot of electricity.

Beck:  Bruns says that every since Microsoft said it was coming to Cheyenne, a number of other major companies have contacted the state and have indicated they’d also like to consider Wyoming.  But state economic development officials say smaller data centers are just as important. 

At the edge of Cheyenne, Greenhouse Data is an example, Shawn Mills is the President.

Shawn Mills:  We are housing your data that you own in our equipment or in your equipment.  So, whether its email data, whether its videos, whether its stock imagery, whether you are a company that is offering software services, you could place all of that data here and feel comfortable that it is secure and has incredible amount of broadband connectivity out to the world so that your customers could access that, or that you could access that for that matter.

Beck:  It’s a ten thousand square foot facility that uses renewable wind power to reduce its costs.  (Nat)  As Mills shows us around he explains that the facility is highly secure, and includes computers that can provide advance warning for fires, and things that can withstand a disaster.  The front even features bulletproof glass.  The data computers themselves are in rows, enclosed in a very cool room.  Mills won’t say what the company takes in, but he says they do very well financially and have plans to expand.  They also have similar facilities in Denver and Portland.  Mills quickly points out that by being in Wyoming, they also are a big boost to their customers.

Mills:  You know we actually can say we saved companies in Wyoming a lot of money.  You know, a lot of companies in Laramie have chosen to get their data center services in Denver.  Because we built our facilities here we are able to leverage some of the proximity to lower that bandwidth cost by literally 40 to 70 percent.

Beck: Another Data Center that serves businesses in Wyoming is Ptolemy data systems in Sheridan.  CEO Ryan Mullholland offers both a data center as well as data consulting services. 

Ryan Mullholland: You know a lot of the larger data centers believe that the best way to run a data center is to never have contact with your customers.  In fact, they feel like it costs them money to have contact with their customers.  We’re the opposite. 

Beck:  He believes having such a facility in Sheridan will actually lead to business creation because those companies know their data needs can be taken care of locally.  Because of Wyoming’s low electricity costs and cool climate, he expects the Data center industry will explode. 

And that’s the point of State Senator John Schiffer of Kaycee.  The Republican opposed Governor Mead setting aside ten million dollars to try to attract Data Centers from other places and he doesn’t think the state should provide tax breaks to companies from other places, because the focus should be on local companies.  Schiffer would like the state to grow its own.  

But Cheyenne Leads Randy Bruns says that the bigger data centers bring a lot of money to the state and Wyoming couldn’t attract them without state incentives, something Microsoft made very clear.

Bruns:  They told us right up front we would not be having this conversation with any of you were it not for the incentives the legislature put in place over a couple of years.

Beck: Bruns says the best idea is for Wyoming to have a mix of large and small data centers.  For Wyoming Public Radio I’m Bob Beck.