A spot in Eagle Mountain, where once stood 500 acres of farmland, now will be home to FarmVille.
Well, that and whatever zips through the Facebook servers and gets squirreled away in their digital warehouse.
The recent announcement that the ubiquitous social media giant would indeed be building a 970,000-square-foot server building was the culmination of an on-again, off-again mating dance the state has been engaged in for years.
To persuade the company to come here, it took about $150 million in local incentives over the next two decades, plus another chunk of tax breaks from the state.
It is a slightly less generous break than West Jordan dangled out there about 20 months ago, before Facebook opted for Las Lunas, N.M., and an even more lavish incentive package.
But did we just get played?
By now, Facebook has perfected the scam of pitting cities against one another, using them to leverage the richest incentive package. And, of course, the whole time the company obviously knew it would have to turn around and build another data center — and another, and another, and another — to manage the vacation photos and birthday posts of its more than 2.2 billion active users.
Facebook literally cannot keep up.
Within months of announcing it would build in New Mexico, the company announced it would triple the size of the project. In 2017, it announced it would build new centers in Ohio, Virginia, Nebraska and Denmark, and expand its centers in Iowa and Ireland, as well.
The company needs willing cities yet still has the swagger to make them all grovel and give away huge chunks of tax revenue for the honor of being the new host.
And these data centers are not exactly economic bonanzas.
No question, there will be big upfront rewards in construction, and the company has committed to about $100 million in road and utility investments that state and city officials hope lure other tech companies to the area.
But once data centers are up and running, they are not labor-intensive operations. They are essentially massive refrigerators that exist to keep the servers from melting, and to do that, they guzzle immense amounts of water — a scarce resource in this state.
There are not expected to be more than 50 people employed at the site. Facebook’s own numbers from a report earlier this year indicate that 82 percent of what it spends on data centers goes toward construction — meaning about two years of big spending that quickly dries up.
A study last year by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimated that the typical data center spends 2½ times as much on electricity and twice as much on maintenance as it does on staffing.
And the incentives Utah is giving stretch out 20 years. Remember what Facebook was doing 20 years ago? It didn’t exist. Do we know what it will look like in 20 more years? Do we know what data storage will look like? I certainly don’t, but it will be vastly different than we can comprehend.
Facebook, as you would expect, touts the benefits of data centers. It estimates that for every person employed, five more jobs are created in the area — and those can’t all be tied to Cambridge Analytica funneling private user data to Russian troll farms.
It also lauds its efforts to conserve water, asserting it uses half as much as a typical data center, and is getting all of its electricity from renewable sources.
So maybe I’m wrong. It wouldn’t be that unusual and the deal has been inked (in secret, of course). So here we are.
But it feels like, in the headlong pursuit to woo a company with the glitz of Facebook, the state got caught up in the competition to see who can give away the most taxpayer money in exchange for an economic upside that is uncertain, at best.
Clarification • June 4, 2018, 1 p.m.: Facebook is receiving $150 million in local incentives plus additional sales tax breaks from the state. A previous version misstated the package.