- Local and state leaders commented earlier this week that Microsoft plans to develop a $1 billion parcel of vacant land, over 315 acres.
- The village board voted on the proposal Thursday, and the Racine County Board will vote on it on April 11th & 18th.
- The Mount Pleasant Village Board unanimously favored the proposal, approving it Thursday evening.
- The initial agreement for Mount Pleasant would potentially construct four large data center buildings on the property.
- Under the proposed agreement, Microsoft could earn back some of its investment.
- Experts say that large companies often build data centers in rural areas with inexpensive land and utilities but typically do not bring many direct job opportunities.
- Experts report that the demand for data centers will only increase in 2023. However, AI, extensive hiring requirements, and a lack of visibility have been top concerns regarding staffing within the industry.
- The proposal opens the door to more high-level growth, it’s a great fit for TID 5 as it was meant to be a tech hub, and the plan makes financial sense for the village.
Local and state leaders commented earlier this week that Microsoft plans to develop a $1 billion parcel of the vacant land, over 315 acres. The announcement came only a week prior to a contentious election, with Foxconn opponent Kelly Gallaher running to unseat the village president.
The Village of Mount Pleasant, Racine County, Racine County Economic Development Corporation, Wisconsin Economic Development Corp, and Milwaukee 7 announced the plans for the agreement on Monday after a closed session meeting on the subject.
The initial agreement for Mount Pleasant would potentially construct four large data center buildings on the property, according to conceptual site plans released on Tuesday.
The land in question is part of a tax increment district, or TID 5, the same district that includes Foxconn. However, this project is set in a different area of the district and won’t be considered a part of the actual Foxconn site. Since Foxconn contributed to acquiring the land in the entire TID, therefore the proposed deal with Microsoft will provide some of the village’s sale proceeds to Foxconn.
Officials have not announced how many jobs will be created from this plan. The village board voted on the proposal Thursday, and the Racine County Board will vote on it on April 11th & 18th. The Mount Pleasant Village Board was unanimously in favor of the proposal, approving it Thursday evening.
Claude Lois, Foxconn’s project manager, spoke just last year about his hopes to attract national or international companies to the site. Mount Pleasant has dedicated half a decade and $1.4 billion towards 2,500 acres of property since Foxconn first announced its international development in 2017.
Lois said, “Our first commitment is always to local taxpayers.” But, he added, “That will be the case as we move forward with Microsoft.”
Jonathan Delagrave, Racine County Executive, and Village President David DeGroot called the plan a tremendous opportunity.
“Microsoft was attracted to this location because it is primed for development,” DeGroot stated. “Through local investments, we have transformed this area of Mount Pleasant and equipped it with the infrastructure necessary to support a major investment by Microsoft.”
“I am so thrilled and honored to announce that Microsoft Corporation is committed to making a significant investment in Mount Pleasant,” he adds. “Not only is this great for the village financially, but the fit into TID5, which was set up to be a technology hub in the Midwest, could not be more perfect. And having a corporate resident such as Microsoft in TID5 will only serve as a magnet to attract additional high-level growth to Mount Pleasant.”
Financial Benefits for Foxconn
If Racine County agrees to approve the development agreement, phase one of construction will begin by July 2026. Phase two of construction concerning the data center will begin by July 2033. Microsoft would purchase around 315 acres for $50 million by July 31, 2023. Foxconn would receive proceeds from the land sale as a partial reimbursement of money Foxconn paid to acquire land in 2017.
Existing Foxconn facilities, such as the famous globe data center, are located in Area I. Area III/TID 5, where Microsoft would be constructing a facility, is south of Braun Road and North of Highway KR.
Under the proposed agreement, Microsoft could earn back some of its investment as it builds and is eligible to receive 42% of the annual incremental property taxes. However, it is not to exceed $5 million annually.
Mount Pleasant and Racine County can repurchase the land being sold to Microsoft if Microsoft fails to meet construction deadlines concerning the build plan.
Paul English, Microsoft’s director of community engagement, commented about the opportunity, “Today’s announcement is just the start of our mutual collaboration and Microsoft’s long-term commitment to the local community.”
In April 2021, the state revised its $2.85 billion contract with Foxconn to create realistic and attainable goals, including creating 1,454 jobs. However, Monday’s announcement was met with a degree of skepticism because Foxconn has had some grand plans in the past that didn’t come together.
Foxconn Technology Group said the collaboration with Microsoft and local government demonstrates the company’s partnership with others to further the goals and intentions of creating a science and technology hub. A statement they released regarding the topic stated, “As a result of Foxconn’s presence, Mount Pleasant has undergone a transformation of infrastructure that continues to support potential business cases for additional Foxconn production.”
The statement goes on to say, “In Wisconsin, Foxconn has invested over $1 billion, manufactures data servers for 1-tier customers, remains committed to driving its ongoing business operations, and committed to finding new opportunities in response to market demand.”
The Demand for Data Centers Across the U.S. is Booming, But Why Isn’t It Sparking More Excitement?
Experts report that the demand for data centers will only increase in 2023. As a result, more facilities will be needed to sustain critical services and access, supporting anything from academic research to emergency medicine, financial exchanges, business applications, and many other data-intense services.
Some of the largest tech companies in the United States, such as Microsoft, Amazon, and Google, are building data centers consistently to support and sustain growth; plus, the industry has doubled in size since late 2015. Yet, despite the positive and noticeable growth within the space, it still is not creating the projected amount of jobs it initially was expected to provide. Why is that?
Hiring and staffing issues seem to be directly linked to the demanding requirements to enter the field, the competition with artificial intelligence, and also; limited awareness of career opportunities surrounding the industry.
The Bar Is High For Potential Candidates
According to research from Uptime Institute Intelligence, the number of staff required to run data centers worldwide will grow from around $2 million to $2.3 million by 2025. Still, the sector is setting the bar high. But unfortunately, this can close the door for many potential candidates wanting to pursue a career within the industry.
There are about 230+ job functions within the industry, which include business support, strategy, operations, IT hardware, engineering, and networking. However, studies have pointed out that employers may set the bar unrealistically high when hiring, contributing to some of the ongoing staffing problems.
A recent Uptime Institute report estimated that the industry will need to find 300,000 more staff members by 2025. In a separate survey, 50% of those surveyed reported having difficulties finding candidates for open positions.
Data Center Career Opportunities Are Practically Invisible
Not many people have heard of the employment opportunities within the industry, and that lack of attention is reflected in the staffing shortages.
The lack of awareness of employment opportunities within data centers was a “self-created” issue, according to Heather Dooley, global director of business operations, learning, and tools at Google Data Centers. Until the past decade, companies have been reticent about their data-center infrastructure, impacting hiring negatively.
While participating in an Ascierto webinar panel about staffing outlook, Dooley commented, “We’ve kind of self-created this awareness issue, which I think is the top problem here. None of the general public knew about data centers.”
In addition, only a few university and community college programs are dedicated to data-center education. As a result, many professionals currently working in the industry did not receive their training in school. Dooley added that there are “very few programs in the academic spaces focus on data centers.”
Recruiting tactics need to be optimized and changed. Data centers will likely need to switch up their methods and open up to welcoming people who are diverse in various ways, including education and industry experience. Plenty of transferable skills in other industries are beneficial and applicable to construction and data center positions.
There are various roles in data centers that require skills beyond tech. For example, jobs can span from design and construction to equipment installation, systems testing, servers’ ongoing operations, networking, mechanical and electrical equipment, and more.
Widening the talent pool will require the industry to be more open to considering the transfer of various skills instead of solely looking at experience and years in the actual field.
Artificial Intelligence Taking Over Data Center Jobs
No other technology can impact the efficiency of a data center quite like AI. Sophisticated and complex AI programs optimize performance through predictive analytics, identifying areas of concern and connecting them with different processes and energy usage.
There has been a growing interest in automating data center jobs, which skyrocketed during the pandemic for apparent reasons. Although, many of these job functions still cannot be replaced by AI at this point. Even once we achieve greater automation, we still need humans to troubleshoot complex issues. AI isn’t quite capable of troubleshooting, so if there is an incident or outage, you’ll likely need real people to work out the kinks.
On the other hand, other operations in data centers can be automated. Staffing challenges have urged companies to notice which processes can be successfully transitioned to automated systems. This can bridge the gap for some of those open positions needing to be filled, and it can also save money.
For example, Google cut down 40% of its data center’s cooling costs just by managing the cooling infrastructure via AI. Artificial intelligence provides facility managers with a comprehensive picture of the health of data center components. Saving money and manpower is appealing, and more data centers have been looking into ways to transition.
Companies aim to achieve higher productivity and efficiency while decreasing human resources. As a result, data center automation is expected to play an integral part in the industry’s future.
Outside Techs With Extensive Experience Being Brought In to Fill Positions
Experts say that large companies often build data centers in rural areas with affordable land and utilities but typically do not bring a whole lot of job opportunities along with them.
Head of the local International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union, E.W. Gregory, told the New York Times that Microsoft opened a data center in Boydton, Virginia, and the community thought it would create hundreds of jobs.
Gregory said that was not the case. Instead, they brought in outside technicians to do much of the work. As a result, about 25 local residents received jobs, primarily as administrative assistants or janitorial staff.
He said the new data center helped the community to a certain degree because “restaurants, gas stations, and hotels are getting more business.” However, the addition of the data center itself didn’t offer locals the new exciting career opportunities they were hoping for, according to Gregory.
Locals and nearby residents are looking forward to hearing how many jobs these Microsoft data center facilities will have to offer. However, there has yet to be any mention of the actual number of jobs the project will create for the community.
One thing we know for sure is that it will provide job opportunities in terms of construction, and we may also see other businesses popping up around the area near the facilities, which can provide indirect opportunities for those seeking work.
A Positive Addition to Mount Pleasant
While there are some concerns about job opportunities and questions from locals about how much of the 315 acres will actually be developed, the proposal clearly opens the door for more high-level growth in Mount Pleasant, it’s a suitable option for the land since TID 5 was intended to be a midwestern tech hub, and it will aid the village of Mount Pleasant financially. It’s massive opportunities like these that can breathe new life into smaller cities (or villages) like Mount Pleasant.