DeKALB - Facebook’s parent company, Meta, announced Wednesday it will expand its DeKalb Data Center on the city’s south side by three buildings, bringing with it a community investment that now totals more than $1 billion.
Meta officials and city leaders scheduled a news conference Wednesday at the facility in the 1500 block of Gurler Road, which has been under construction since June 2020. Once work is completed, expected in 2023, the almost 2.4 million-square-foot facility will represent an investment with 200 operational jobs, officials said. Construction is expected to employ more than 1,200 workers over the length of the build.
Stefan Kasan, infra construction manager and site lead at Meta, has been in DeKalb overseeing the project since its announcement in June 2020.
“When we announced we were building in DeKalb, we talked about the reason we chose the area – good access to renewable energy and infrastructure, a strong pool of talent for construction and operation and, most importantly, an incredible set of community partners,” Kasan said.
Those partners lined the room at Meta’s construction site Wednesday. Included were local and state elected officials, education and countywide government leaders and business representatives.
In the data center’s first two years of construction, crews have moved 1.4 million tons of dirt, poured 10,500 cubic yards of concrete and erected 7,500 tons of steel, Kasan said.
Meta’s making moves in DeKalb
DeKalb Mayor Cohen Barnes spoke about the impact of Meta’s construction and long-term growth in DeKalb and said it shows other developers that DeKalb is an enticing place to put down roots. Chicago-based Mortensen construction is taking lead on the build, which also includes almost 1,200 workers, including DeKalb-based Curran Contracting Co. Inc.
“This is a global scale production, but it’s all those subcontractors of the contractors,” Barnes said. “The ripples of economic impact of this particular project itself go way down to a lot of businesses in our community, all the supporting construction, the restaurants that have done catering out here, you name it.”
As part of its plan to spread its impact beyond the data center – purported to connect millions of users around the globe to Meta’s portfolio of social media and digital platforms including Facebook, Instagram, Messenger, WhatsApp and the virtual reality platform Oculus – Meta officials also announced several community initiatives Wednesday.
DeKalb Mayor Cohen Barnes speaker at the data center— Kelsey Rettke (@K_Rettke) April 27, 2022
site on Gurler Road on @Meta’s Wednesday announcement that the DeKalb Data Center is expanding, bringing with it more than $1B investment into area @cityofdekalb_IL pic.twitter.com/qTYiyAIGlj
The company’s application window for schools and nonprofits in the area to receive financial support is now open through Meta’s Community Action Grants program, which launches in the fall. The grants are available to schools and registered 501(c)(3)s in the area. For information on the grant program, visit datacenters.fb.com/grants/.
Meta also awarded a $50,000 grant to DeKalb School District 428 for the district’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) programs for elementary and secondary students this year.
DeKalb Superintendent Minerva Garcia-Sanchez applauded the grant and its benefits for DeKalb students.
“The grant will bring fidelity and enhancements to existing projects and services that we have in place to foster future-ready students for a global society,” Garcia-Sanchez said. “Our students and staff are excited about our partnerships as is evidenced by the waiting list for our summer program revolving totally around STEM in partnership with NIU.”
DeKalb @CUSD428 Superintendent Minerva Garcia-Sanchez speaks at the data center site on Gurler Road re: @Meta Wednesday announcement that the DeKalb Data Center is expanding. Meta also awarded a $50K grant to D428 schools’s STEM programs pic.twitter.com/hLFKmrckjE— Kelsey Rettke (@K_Rettke) April 27, 2022
Northern Illinois University President Lisa Freeman heralded what many community leaders spoke about Wednesday: That since the world’s largest social network company arrived in DeKalb almost two years ago, its company leaders have fostered local relationships in an effort to collaborate with existing agencies in the area. She said NIU has had conversations to collaborate for its forthcoming Northern Illinois Center for Community Sustainability, announced in 2018.
“Meta has taken the time to understand DeKalb County’s proud agricultural history and how it forms the foundation for innovation that will guide the region to a sustainable and prosperous future,” Freeman said.
Sustainability through artificial intelligence
In what company officials said was an effort to lower Meta’s carbon footprint during construction of the data center, Meta also announced a partnership with the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and fourth-generation Midwest family-owned concrete company Ozinga.
Throughout the past year and a half, researchers with Meta, UIUC and Ozinga worked together to develop a more sustainable concrete using artificial intelligence technology.
The formula already has been tested at the DeKalb Data Center, with plans to research and roll it out for greater use in Meta’s data centers. The development is an effort by the company to reduce its carbon footprint during the center build.
Amruta Sudhalkar, data center sustainability program manager, said Meta has achieved a net zero operational emissions since last year. Meta since turned its attention to addressing emissions in infrastructure, including materials used to build the data center.
“Data centers are an extremely mission-critical piece of infrastructure in today’s modern age,” Sudhalkar said. “But the construction and operation of these data centers has a carbon footprint and Meta is committed to addressing that carbon footprint.”
Sudhalkar said concrete and cement alone contribute to about 8% of global carbon emissions. Therefore, addressing types of concrete used in buildings can have a significant reduction impact.
The DeKalb Data Center is Meta’s 16th in the world, including 12 in the United States, three in Europe and one under construction in Singapore, and is built on more than 500 acres on DeKalb’s south side. Founded in 2004, the world’s largest social media network is headquartered in Menlo Park, California, employs more than 48,000 people across the world, and operates data centers in Iowa, North Carolina, Texas, Virginia, Oregon, New Mexico, Ohio, Utah, Nebraska, Alabama, Georgia, Denmark, Singapore, Ireland and Sweden.
The development existed years ago under the code name Project Ventus until its announcement in 2020 and had been a fixture of the city of DeKalb and countywide business community. To incentivize the social media giant to come to DeKalb, tax abatements were offered by DeKalb area governments, while area educational institutions touted its promise for future workforce development.
At the time of its announcement, data center jobs were projected to start at $38.50 an hour, according to city documents. Meta said at the time it planned to hire technicians, engineers, construction management, facility managers, logistics professors and security personnel.
The development also came with tax abatement provisions attached, per intergovernmental agreements signed by countywide taxing bodies over a period of a few months in the spring of 2020.
The Meta data center is privy to a 20-year, 55% property tax abatement plan, already approved by the council and agreed upon through the DeKalb County Enterprise Zone, a program administered by the DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation, with a stipulation of 50 tech jobs with a starting wage of $38.50 an hour to qualify for tax abatements within the first few years, documents show.
With its Wednesday announcement, it’s expected that more jobs will flow into the expanding center.