Cloak & Dagger: Iowa’s Secret Courtship of Facebook

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An artist’s conception of the future Facebook data center in Altoona, Iowa (Image: Facebook)

What goes on behind the scenes in winning a “codename” data center project? It’s a secretive process in which negotiations begin on a first-name only basis, and continue through anonymized email accounts and subsidiaries with mysterious names, followed by non-disclosure agreements. After many twists and turns, delays and haggling over incentives, the mystery company is finally revealed.

The Des Moines Register takes readers inside this previously secret site selection process in “How Iowa Landed Facebook,” which provides details of the state of Iowa’s courtship of “Project Catapult,” which culminated in a new Facebook data center project in Altoona, Iowa. The story is based on an examination of 330 emails between state officials and representatives, which were obtained through the state’s open records law.

When dealing with state and local officials in Iowa, members of the Facebook corporate team all used Gmail accounts to hide the company’s identity. Facebook’s site selection expert used a fake last name (“Siculus”, which was also the name of the legal subsidiary created for the project). Even though Facebook reps pressed Iowa officials to line up permits and incentives to meet their “aggressive timeline,” there were several extensive delays.

“There were times the project just went dark,” Iowa economic development official Debi Durham told the Register, speculating that the company’s turbulent IPO may have been a factor in the delays. At one point in November 2012, a Facebook rep told Durham last fall that the project was “stuck in corporate approval hell.” The Register story also highlights the fierce competition between Iowa and Nebraska, where the company was known as “Project Edge.”

It adds up to a revealing look inside the process. If you’re in site selection or economic development, it’s must-read material. Read the full story at the Des Moines Register.

About the Author

Rich Miller is the founder and editor-in-chief of Data Center Knowledge, and has been reporting on the data center sector since 2000. He has tracked the growing impact of high-density computing on the power and cooling of data centers, and the resulting push for improved energy efficiency in these facilities.

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