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Many Details of the Incentives Bringing Facebook's Data Center to Ohio Are Not Yet Clear

photo of Facebook data center land

Social networking giant Facebook has announced it will build a new 970,000 square foot data center in Central Ohio. And the company is doing it with the help of local and state tax incentives. But the terms of those agreements weren’t easy to come by.

The proposed data center in New Albany, near the line that divides Franklin and Licking Counties, will be powered by 100 percent renewable energy. Rachel Peterson, director of Data Center Strategy and Development at Facebook, says this is the tenth of its kind for Facebook.

“It’s going to be delivering hundreds of millions of dollars of investment to the local community and the state as well as thousands of construction jobs and hundreds of full time operational jobs,” she said.

The official statement put out by the public relations firm working with Facebook on the project says the project will create 100 permanent jobs. Peterson says those will be high tech jobs and that employees will operate data servicing at the center. But when asked the average wage of those jobs, she responded:

“We don’t actually comment on the pay of our employees but we are a very competitive employer."

'The state has granted a 100 percent sales tax exemption for the facility for as many as 40 years. The total price tag for that part of the package is more than $37 million.'

  She refused to provide even a ballpark number beyond noting, "We are looking at high quality jobs.”

Temporary construction jobs
People who work in construction trades are hoping they will benefit from the project. Jeff Rush is a business representative for Sheet Metal Workers, Local 24.

photo of Rachel Peterson
Facebook's Rachel Peterson says the new center will create "high quality jobs."

“Our members would be installing the heating and cooling portion of the work, possibly the metal siding, the exterior insulated siding panels if there are any, which I believe there are on this project. That’s all stuff that falls under our scope of work.”

He called the project "very big."

At what cost
There are a lot of state and federal tax credits involved, but at the event, there weren’t many details. New Albany Mayor Sloan Spalding says the Facebook deal with his city requires a minimum investment.

“They have a payroll threshold that they have to meet under our agreement and most of the companies, the data centers we have, have no trouble meeting that threshold,” Spalding said.

The leader of JobsOhio, the state’s publicly funded private, non-profit jobs agency, was involved in negotiating the deal. John Minor says Facebook’s investment is significant.

“This is actually the second-largest capital investment that we have seen here in the state since JobsOhio started. Now that excludes a lot of the energy and shale projects we’ve worked on, but this is very significant from a capital investment perspective,” he said.

Some key details of the agreements are known and some are still being worked out.

The state’s Tax Credit Authority approved a job-creation incentive for 2 percent of the new Ohio employee payroll from this year to 2026, providing Facebook creates 50 new jobs and $4 million in new annual payroll. The company estimates the value of that to be more than $834,000. And the state has granted a 100 percent sales tax exemption for the facility for as many as 40 years. The total price tag for that part of the package is more than $37 million.

Gov. John Kasich says it’s worth the investment and could help attract similar investments in the future.

“I’ll tell you one thing. It’s not going to take us 40 years to make back the investment we make. We don’t buy deals,” he said.

Long-term investment
Still, some who have studied these types of deals, though not this one, have questions about all of the incentives being offered. Wendy Patton is with the progressive research group Policy Matters Ohio.

“We know that the state investment is probably about $37 million in a 40-year sales tax exemption primarily but also some income tax breaks, the job creation tax credit," she said. "If we had that type of investment happening on the floor during budget discussions, there would be hearings. Legislators would question it. And stakeholders from many different perspectives would come in to testify about it. We have none of that here.”

Patton says more transparency is needed for deals like this one but she knows that’s not likely to happen anytime soon.

“Big money deal, a lot of impact, very little information. So it’s the way the game is played but we think there’s a lot that could be done to improve the game,” she said.

Now that the money is there for the Facebook project, the building begins. The project is expected to be complete in 2019.

Jo Ingles is a professional journalist who covers politics and Ohio government for the Ohio Public Radio and Television for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. She reports on issues of importance to Ohioans including education, legislation, politics, and life and death issues such as capital punishment. Jo started her career in Louisville, Kentucky in the mid 80’s when she helped produce a televised presidential debate for ABC News, worked for a creative services company and served as a general assignment report for a commercial radio station. In 1989, she returned back to her native Ohio to work at the WOSU Stations in Columbus where she began a long resume in public radio.