North Carolina Economic Development Guide

2014

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CASE STUDY FEEDING DEMAND The state and its largest utility try to satisfy industry's growing hunger for renewable energy. B Y E D WA R D M A RT I N T GOOGLE INC. urbid and sluggish, Lower Creek flows quietly alongside one of the busy U.S. highways that meet in the middle of town, dividing Lenoir into quarters. It's as unpretentious as its surroundings. Across the road, Bernhardt Furniture Co. Plant No. 3 bares its muscular brick surface behind a latticework of piping and conduits, part of a business that has anchored local manufacturing since 1889. Up a side street in a storage yard, green portable toilets await assignments. This is a gritty industrial neighborhood. It's also the site of an economic revolution. It began in 2007, when Google Inc. built a data center within sight of the furniture factory. It's vast — filled with seemingly endless racks of computers spitting billions of bytes of information. An employee dressed as a Star Wars stormtrooper recently guarded an aisle. "Just one of those goofy things we do," spokeswoman Kate Hurowitz says, laughing. Google's investment in Caldwell County will soon top $1.2 billion as the Mountain View, Calif.-based company expands. Since Google's arrival, Cupertino, Calif.-based Apple Inc. built a $1 billion one in Maiden in neighboring Catawba County, and Palo Alto, Calif.-based Facebook Inc. opened a $450 million one last year in Forest City in nearby Rutherford County. The region has branded itself the North Carolina Data Center Corridor. Other centers began popping up there and across the state, collectively representing at least $4 billion in investments. "People say if Google is happy and expanding, that's good enough for them," says Deborah Murray, executive director of the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission. Now the second stage of the revolution is here, and it's nearly as striking as the growth of the data centers themselves. While few outsiders get more than closely guarded glimpses inside server "farms," their appetite for power is well-known. Based on studies by the Department of Lenoir Challenge: Energy-hungry industries want power from renewable sources such as solar and wind to cut costs and ensure a long-term supply. Solution: Spurred by state incentives, Duke Energy Corp., several universities and more than 2,000 North Carolina businesses are developing rates, sources and technology to meet these companies' green initiatives. Google's data centers, including this one in Lenoir, devour electricity. The company and Duke Energy are developing a rate that encourages renewable-energy use while paying for its generation. N ORT H C A R OL I N A E CON OMI C D E V E LO P M E N T GU I D E 43

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