Massive data center wants to locate in Grand Rapids

Gary Heinlein
The Detroit News

Lansing – State lawmakers are getting ready to roll out tax breaks for a Nevada-based global data company that has its sights on Grand Rapids’ iconic pyramid building as the headquarters for a 2-million-square-foot, $5-billion “data center campus.”

Switch, which describes itself as “a transformational technology idea engine corporation,” ended weeks of speculation about a Grand Rapids development in the offing with its announcement of the pending deal Monday. The pyramid formerly housed Steelcase corporate offices.

Switch said with the passage of three-data center bills currently in the state Legislature, Michigan will be home to the company’s new SUPERNAP data center campus. The projected $5-billion investment includes costs of building the data centers and the servers that will be housed there over a multi-year period, according to its announcement.

“SUPERNAP Michigan will be the largest data center campus in the eastern U.S. and will serve the company’s current clients in geographic redundancy and new clients with national connectivity,” according to the announcement. Switch, it says, “was founded by Rob Roy in 2000 to be the platform for all of his sustainability-focused patents and differentiated technologies.”

Roy is a high-tech entrepreneur said to be transforming America’s gambling mecca into the next Silicon Valley. Services provided by his privately held company include cloud-based data storage and Internet connectivity, as well as equipment, band-width and space rental for companies’ data servers.

Lawmakers last week introduced three House and three Senate bills that would allow data centers meeting certain specifications to be exempt from state sales, use and property taxes under certain conditions.

All of the bill sponsors are west Michigan Republicans. Two bills are sponsored by Rep. Ken Yonker of Gaines Township, where the data center will be located.

“We are excited to be working with Governor Snyder, the Michigan Legislature, the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and The Right Place Inc. to bring Switch and its 1,000-plus clients that make up the largest data center ecosystem in the world to Michigan,” Switch Executive Vice President of Strategy Adam Kramer said in a statement. “Before Switch can finalize its announcement, it will work with the Michigan Legislature to pass new data center legislation that creates an equal playing field between Michigan and its neighboring states.”

The company says its 1,000 clients include include eBay, Intel, Shutterfly, Machine Zone, Amgen, Dreamworks, HP, Intuit, Hitachi, JP Morgan Chase, Sony, Boeing, Cisco, EMC, Google, Amazon, Time Warner, Eli Lilly, Activision and Fox Broadcasting.

Birgit Klohs, president and CEO of Grand Rapids’ The Right Place development agency, said Switch’s “unparalleled technology and data infrastructure investments planned by Switch will unleash countless new possibilities for growth in our state. The future of business will be driven by data, and Michigan will be well positioned as a hub of data innovation,” Klohs said.

Officials of the company and the development agency said Swift will create “thousands” of construction jobs building its campus over a decade. It will employ 1,000 workers at the facility and currently has a workforce that is 70 percent military veterans, they said.