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Facebook "Friends" Rutherford County

FOREST CITY — It’s official: Facebook likes Rutherford County.

Facebook, the world’s leading social networking site, connecting more than 500 million people worldwide, will invest $450 million in Rutherford County with the construction of a data and call center off U.S. 74A at the Rutherford Corporate Center.

“Facebook likes Rutherford County very much,” Tom Furlong, the company’s site operations director, said. The announcement brought cheers and applause from those gathered for the announcement at the future site.

Furlong made the long-awaited announcement before a group of about 200 people Thursday morning. The identity of the company had not been disclosed until then. The data center will be housed in a 300,000-square-foot building, and construction will last about 18 months. During that time, Facebook estimates, more than 250 workers will be employed. 

Facebook’s Rutherford Data Center will be built on the site of Burlington’s J.C. Cowan Plant. The site was built decades ago and most recently was home to Mako Marine. The data center, Facebook says, is a “central location that houses thousands of computer services, which are networked together and then linked to the outside world through fiber-optic cable.”

The data center “will have an industry-leading array of energy saving devices from evaporative cooling systems to an innovative, patent-pending uninterruptible power supply system.”

Construction will begin soon. Once the center is up and running, Facebook says as many as 45 high tech jobs will be available. Facebook will seek to hire employees locally, and, where possible, rely on local contractors and supplies to construct, operate and maintain the facility. The center, Facebook says, will be looking to employ people to repair and maintain servers, generators, back-up power supplies “and other critical infrastructure at the site.”

The center will be crucial to the service of Facebook’s 500 million users, Furlong said. He said the company looked at sites along the East Coast, including many in North Carolina, but Rutherford County offered the best mix, citing the business atmosphere, climate, the site and the presence of Duke Energy. 

After Furlong and county leaders unveiled the Facebook banner, state and local officials took time to thank the company and those involved in the almost year-long process.

Lt. Gov. Walter Dalton said it’s always good to come back home to Rutherford County, especially on days such as Thursday.

“Over 100 years ago, Rutherford County clothed the world as the textile giant. Today, Rutherford County will be playing a role in connecting the world.”

If Facebook was a country it would be the third largest country in the world, Dalton said.

“No announcement is a bigger game changer than this,” Dalton said. “Rutherford County is ready for the 21st Century.”

“We congratulate you on a very wise decision, Mr. Furlong.” 

Secretary of Commerce Keith Crisco, who met with county commissioners last month in closed session, gave best wishes from Gov. Bev Perdue, who was with the troops and veterans at Fort Bragg on Thursday. 

In a statement, Perdue said: “We are proud that Facebook chose to make North Carolina a ‘friend.’ The feeling is certainly mutual,” she said. “The investment and jobs at the data center will be a boon to that region of the state, and will help confirm North Carolina’s distinction as a global business destination.”

Crisco said the former J.C. Cowan plant was for years a site of great production, and now the data center will transform North Carolina, “right here at the J.C. Cowan plant.”

“Facebook wanted to be here,” he said.

He said with the state’s unemployment rate of 9.6, “that is too high and we have a lot of work to do, but you have come. You have made a commitment. We will keep on keeping on.”

Rep. Patrick McHenry (R) of the 10th District said Facebook users log 700 billion minutes per month. “This is significant to the world.”

“We are thankful for the one-half billion dollar investment,” McHenry said. “It’s about time we have good news.”

County Commissioner Susan Crowe thanked those involved with the project. “Local folks were key to making this come together.” 

She thanked former county commissioners Chivous Bradley, Chuck Hill and Amanda King for their work in preparing the property at Corporate 74. Without the site preparation, Facebook would not be in the county today.

She said the company will provide new jobs. “I hope this will open the door for more. We sure do look forward to working with you.”

Keven McCammon, Economic Development Commission chair, said Facebook is here because of quality of leadership in Rutherford County. “They could have gone a lot of places, but they came here.” 

Rutherford County will sell 138 acres, with an option for an additional 15 acres, in exchange for about $3.148 million plus a donation of $200,000 to various community groups, according to the purchase and sale agreements. The company has committed to invest at least $450 million on the site for the buildings and other improvements that will serve as the data center, the installation of computer servers and other equipment as part of the initial phase of the project, Tom Johnson, executive director of the Economic Development Commission, said Wednesday.

Three buildings could be constructed on the site, but the initial phase calls for only one.

The average wage for workers, about $538 a week, will exceed the county average, Johnson said. The county has agreed to provide up to $400,000 to remove asbestos in what is commonly called the Mako building, as well as structures such as outbuildings, a wastewater treatment plant and tanks. The county will also place $490,000 in escrow for private infrastructure work on the site, though Johnson said much of that will be offset through grants, including a $420,000 infrastructure grant from the N.C. Rural Center. The Rural Center will forgive $142,245 of grant repayment money scheduled for fiscal 2011-12, Johnson said, and the county has been approved to receive $100,000 for the Duke Energy Carolina Investment Fund.

Should the company petition Forest City for annexation, the town could contribute $70,000 for the relocation of infrastructure, Johnson said. The county also will set aside $500,000, which is capped, for costs associated with removal, remediation or mitigation of an unknown environmental condition, such as soil or groundwater contamination beneath the footprint of the existing structures on the site. Building permits and landfill fees will be waived and, dependent on annexation, Forest City will provide an economic development grant for 30 years equal to all property taxes paid by the company, Johnson said. The town also would get an electric franchise fee. Rutherford County will provide an EDC grant, effective for 20 years, for taxable investments during the initial years of the project, with all grants ending no later than 2040.

“Initially,” Johnson said, “the amount of the grant is 85 percent of real property taxes paid and 90 percent of personal property taxes paid. If the company meets the $450 million capital investment threshold before Dec. 31, 2015, the personal property grant percentage increases to 95 percent of personal property taxes paid,” although, he pointed out, the period could be extended a year due to things happening outside the company’s control.

After the Economic Development Grant, Johnson said, it appears Rutherford County will net an average of slightly more than $109,000 per year during the initial 10 years of the project. Based on a tax rate of 53 cents, the company represents a tax value of more than 20.6 million.

“While the Economic Development Grant is a higher percentage than some other grants the county has given in the past, the net value would represent No. 6 on the nonresidential list of the county’s highest taxpayers,” he said. Not considering CSX, Shaw Construction and the public utilities, the company would be the county’s biggest taxpayer. “This does not take into account the cost savings the county will achieve from everyday maintenance activities and potential up-fit cost to the Mako building.”

News Editor John Trump contributed to this story.
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