Facebook is coming to Alabama.
The $750 million data center coming to Huntsville, approved two weeks ago by the Huntsville City Council under the guise of a masking name, was revealed Thursday.
The announcement is the latest economic development coup for bustling Huntsville and Facebook lends a eye-catching brand to the Rocket City’s prosperity.
“I’ve been here for a number of announcements like this,” TVA President Bill Johnson said. “I’ve figured out what’s happening here. This isn’t a coincidence. This is like Alabama football. We out-train, we out-prepare and we out-recruit the other team. So you know what I’m going to say: Roll, Huntsville!”
Gov. Kay Ivey attended the news conference at the Huntsville-Madison County Chamber of Commerce, making the announcement as the cover on the backdrop fell to the floor to reveal the familiar Facebook logo.
“Every day, millions of people around the world use Facebook’s products, and this new Alabama data center will soon play a role in keeping the company’s popular platforms running flawlessly,” Ivey said. “Facebook has found a great location in Sweet Home Alabama, and we’ll do our best to help the company grow and prosper here.”
Of course, Facebook already has a Facebook page for its Huntsville data center. Officials said information about jobs will be posted on the page in the weeks and months ahead.
The data center already has its first employee and he’s an Alabama native. Joe Lackey of Muscle Shoals will be the construction project manager.
The Huntsville city council approved a non-direct incentive package of $6.6 million at its May 24 meeting, which was described only as a high-tech data center under the company name of Starbelt. As part of the project development agreement with the city of Huntsville, Facebook agreed to purchase the land for its facility and holds an option to buy additional land.
Shane Davis, the city’s director of economic and urban development, told the council that Starbelt “would construct and operate a large-scale data center campus for the purpose of storing, processing and serving customer-based data needs.”
It is expected to provide about 100 jobs, according to Ivey, at the campus at the North Huntsville Industrial Park.
“I’m glad Facebook sent a friend request to Alabama,” Ivey said.
“We are excited to be joining the Huntsville community. As one of the fastest growing tech hubs in the country, we knew it would be a great location for our newest data center,” said Matt VanderZanden, director of site selection at Facebook.
“We are committed to having a positive impact at the local level and look forward to a strong partnership with the Huntsville community.”
The data center in north Huntsville is the latest economic development success story for the area. Facebook will be neighbors with Aerojet Rocketdyne, which is currently building a facility in the park, as well as Toyota Motor Manufacturing.
The Facebook announcement also comes six months since Mazda Toyota Manufacturing USA said it would bring 4,000 jobs to north Alabama at its $1.6 billion plant in Huntsville.
The Facebook data center will be a 970,000 square foot facility that, according to Facebook, “will host many of the videos, photos, and news articles you see on your Facebook feed every day.”
The facility is expected to be operational by 2020.
“To our friends at Facebook, welcome to the Huntsville community,” Huntsville Mayor Tommy Battle said. “And just so you know, we’re more than friends. We’re now partners. Your success will be our success.”
U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby praised the decision by Facebook to come to Huntsville.
“Facebook’s decision to build a new data center in Huntsville is evidence that Alabama is and continues to be open for business,” Shelby said in a statement. “North Alabama is widely acknowledged for its growing technological capabilities, and I am proud that this highly successful company has recognized the potential of locating in the area. This is a significant opportunity for Madison County, and I look forward to partnering with Facebook and welcoming the company to our great state.”
VanderZanden said that the Huntsville data center will be the 11th nationally for Facebook, which also has three international data centers.
“We’re always checking out new opportunities to invest in data centers,” he said. “Huntsville is just a terrific location for a data center. We’re really stoked to be here. I think the things that were so exciting to us was really great infrastructure locally – water, waste water, fiber. And we have awesome access to renewable energy. Obviously, the great talent pools you heard the mayor and the governor speak about. We just have terrific local partnerships.”
Battle said Huntsville responded to a request for proposal for a data center about 15 months ago without knowing it was Facebook. That revelation didn’t take place until the fall of 2017. The project operated under the code name “Cricket.”
Facebook expects its data center to have a ripple effect economically across north Alabama.
“These data centers are real economic engines – and beyond just the four corners of the site,” Facebook said in its announcement. “We are proud to say a recent study found that for every 1 million dollars in operating expenses at our data centers, there are 13 jobs supported in the economy. And for every 1 million dollars in capital expenditures, there are more than 14 jobs supported in the economy.”