Google Hires Former State Senator to Manage Community Relations in Lenoir, NC, protecting its $165 mil tax break for data center operation

Again thanks to the analysts at for sending me the local paper article about Google's data center in Lenoir, NC. It's great the press is on top of this. My previous post on why 200 employees has had a of traffic, and this one should get your attention as well.

The globally ambitious, California-based Internet giant is working to establish itself in a close-knit world that's decidedly un-Silicon Valley, mixing with local civic groups and donating charity Christmas trees for a public display, amid strict secrecy the company says its project requires.

Lenoir native Stephen Clay, 57, is so pleased about Google's arrival that he hung a "Clay Insurance Welcomes Google" banner outside his business near downtown. He also attended a Google AdWords training seminar to learn about how its advertising works.

But he and others said they still wish they knew more about the center and how it will benefit the community. Visitors aren't allowed on the construction site, which is ringed with barbed wire.

Residents who have tried to sneak a closer peek say they've been run off by security guards. And employees are limited in what they can say about the project's specifics.

"People talk about it all the time," said Anita Watters, 40, the assistant manager of Miller Hill Grocery, just up the street from the data center. " `Area 51.' It's all this secretive stuff. They're so hush-hush about what they're doing over there ... I hear all kinds of (speculation)."

The most interesting nugget though is that Google has hired a former state senator to manage the community relations. It's a small price to hire the senator to protect google's 30 year $165 million tax break.

The Lenoir project sparked criticism after it was announced last year, in part because it received state and local incentives valued at up to $165 million over 30 years.

As a result, Google has worked to improve its outreach. In April, it hired consultant Matt Dunne, a former Vermont state senator and gubernatorial candidate whose career has focused on bringing together entrepreneurship, community service and politics, to listen to residents and inform them about the company.

Yet he must also manage expectations and explain the competitive reasons data centers are built and operated in secrecy.

In Lenoir, Dunne said, he's encountered a mix of hope and concern: Hope that Google will single-handedly transform the economy and worries that the company won't hire any local workers; excitement about a second building phase and concern that Google employees won't live in or near Lenoir.

Google is not going to be another Broyhill or Bernhardt - furniture companies that for decades were dominant and paternalistic employers in the region - nor is it moving its headquarters to town. Though large, the data center will employ about 200 people, not 8,000, Dunne said.

I wonder how much pressure Google is going to be on to prove they have 200 employees. In this article they listed 3 Google employees, 197 more to go. If the press could get access to the permits they could see the # of parking spaces applied for.

Google declined to say how large the data centers will be, but permits on file with Caldwell County call for one $15.4 million, 139,797-square-foot building and another, $24.5 million, 337,008-square-foot building.

Those permits, incidentally, are not listed under Google, but under the name Lapis LLC. Ask to make a copy, and you'll be told it needs to be cleared by a lawyer first.

"I just wanted to be a part of (Google), a part of the culture," said Jennifer Crump, 35, of Morganton, a former stay-at-home mom who earned an associate's degree in information technology and was hired earlier this month as a data center technician assistant. "It's so different from what we have around here."

Lenoir native Walter Brameld, 30, worked in an Atlanta data center but got burned out and moved home, figuring he'd have to take "a McJob." Then he found out about Google. Once the site location became public, he'd drive past it to reassure himself it was really coming. He was hired in October.

Jacobik, 42, an Air Force veteran and father of seven who previously managed a data center for Oracle in Austin, Texas, oversees Google's Lenoir operation and another planned outside of Charleston. In and around Lenoir alone, he has addressed more than a dozen civic groups, including Rotary, Kiwanis and Ruritan clubs.