CHEYENNE -- "Putting Cheyenne on the Data Center Map" is one of the messages on the Green House Data web page. Green House Data officials took more steps toward that goal by breaking ground for the first $35 million phase of the company expansion Aug. 27.
The expansion, which Green House Data is making in partnership with 1547 Critical Systems Realty, involves construction of a 35,000 square-foot facility next to its existing building at the Cheyenne data center complex east of Cheyenne.
Green House Data currently has 15 employees in Cheyenne who earn a median salary of $33.65 an hour, or about $70,000 per year. The expansion will add 25 jobs for a $4.8 million payroll with 40 employees.
The project, which is expected to be finished by next spring or summer, will more than triple the company's available space at the data center complex at the Cheyenne Business Park.
Other companies located there are EchoStar, the NCAR supercomputer, and Microsoft.
Smaller data centers are located in Casper, Sheridan and other cities in Wyoming.
The company touts its Cheyenne facility as an optimal spot for a data center location for several reasons which add up to lower costs for their customers. Those savings are possible because of Wyoming's tax incentive that exempts sale taxes on new equipment purchases. Other reasons include top-notch broadband; plentiful wind energy; a lower cost of living than major metropolitan areas, which means lower salaries; ease of travel in and out of Cheyenne; and protection from natural disasters-- no earthquakes or hurricanes here.
These qualities attracted Green House Data and other companies that represent a robust new growth industry for the state, encouraged by Gov. Matt Mead.
Mead wants to elevate technology and connectivity to the state's fourth major industry after minerals, tourism and agriculture.
Although the data centers do not employ large numbers of people, the ones who work there are well paid.
Economic development officials say the higher-paid employees contribute to the local economy through a ripple effect by paying taxes and spending their paychecks in Cheyenne.
Green House Data began as a start-up with a server in a closet, said Robert Jensen, chief executive officer of the Wyoming Business Council.
The company now has clients in 26 states and four countries and centers in New Jersey and Oregon as well as Cheyenne.
Currently every IPhone user's data is routed through the Cheyenne facility.
“Having the ability to expand our flagship facility in Cheyenne is very exciting and creates a unique opportunity for national and international companies looking for a co-location or disaster recovery partner,” Shawn Mills, CEO and founder of Green House Data, said in a release.
The Wyoming Business Council gave the company a $1.5 million grant for the first project phase to help cover costs of broadband and utilities, and a $2.25 million grant for the current expansion.
The Microsoft data center in Cheyenne provided 18 jobs in its first phase and nine in the second, for a total of 27 jobs, according to a Wyoming Business Council report.
The data centers are not huge employers like Lowe's or Walmart, Jensen said. Instead, they are a different industry that pays higher wages than the state or county average, he said.
"Those jobs enable other jobs to exist because those people who make that kind of money spend that kind of money here," Jensen said Wednesday in an interview.
The centers and their employees also pay property taxes which bump up the counties' tax bases to pay for schools and roads.
The other major data centers, EchoStar, NCAR, and Microsoft, also received state financial assistance costing millions of dollars.
To attract Microsoft, incentives offered in 2012 totaled nearly $11 million including $5 million from the governor's data center recruitment fund and $5 million from the Wyoming Business Council to Laramie County, both for infrastructure, and $750,000 in workforce training.
The Wyoming Business Council in June awarded the company a $2.25 million grant to help pay for expansion costs of utilities and broadband.
Jensen said the ratio of private sector capital to state seed capital with these companies is five or six times the state's contribution, making it well worth the investment.
"Most large industries have choices. We need to compete for those businesses," Jensen said.
"Whether you like it or not, incentives for businesses to locate one place over another exist. It's part of the marketplace. In a perfect world, the market would dictate where people go and it wouldn't be influenced by outside forces. But that horse left the barn decades ago," he added.
Today, he said, there are about 40,000 economic development organizations nationwide vying for these large companies.
The grants, he said, are one-time investments for companies that will be here for a long time.
Randy Bruns, director of Cheyenne LEADS, a private city-county economic development organization, said Microsoft has almost a half billion dollars invested in the community.
"We rather like that," he said in an interview. "It's a pretty good return on our investment."
Moreover, the Microsoft and the other data centers consume a good deal of electricity, which is in such ample supply in the state that officials have been trying to find a way to export it.
Society has become dependent on digital information that has to be stored and managed in hundreds of data centers.
"It's a growth industry and that's one reason we're interested," Bruns said.
Nationally the data centers are scrambling to keep up.
"All that data coming off your smart phone and your computer has to be stored somewhere and has to be managed somewhere," he said.
"When you click on Amazon.com to go shopping you're creating a dialogue with a data center somewhere."
Data centers are doing something as prosaic as accommodating text messages and storing in a secure way people's medical and health records.
Bruns supported the 2010 law that allows a sales tax exemption on new data center equipment.
The companies spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year on computer equipment which, in many cases, has only a two- or three-year life expectancy. Without the exemption, he said, the state is immediately at a 4 to 6 percent tax disadvantage with Colorado or Nebraska or Utah.
"We seem to think that because we don't have an income tax, that's all it takes. Well, that's not true at all. In some cases we are more expensive than those other jurisdictions."
"We have to make a good business case for the company to be here," Bruns added. "They won't come here just because they like us here in Wyoming."