Google officially opened its third building Thursday in The Dalles — the Taylor Lake data center — following the completion of its first phase of construction.
To mark the occasion, the internet search giant allowed the families of its employees, referred to as “Googlers,” local government leaders and some community members a rare glimpse of its new facility.
After going through multiple security checkpoints, visitors were given guest badges and allowed to view a section of the fourth floor, where a bar and food buffet was set up alongside a full band, informational kiosks, activity stands and a photo/video booth.
Guests were allowed to try Google’s Daydream View VR system as well as a Virtual Reality drawing program and view some of the new workspaces, which featured adjustable desks that could be moved up and down.
The location on Taylor Lake was chosen because of its access to hydroelectric power, Google said in an informational slide.
“We are excited to be opening this new space and to further expand our presence in The Dalles,” said Richard Stillwell, Google’s operations manager for the data center.
“As a part of this community, my colleagues and I are proud to call the Gorge and Oregon our home and to have worked and lived here for more than a decade.”
Google used the groundbreaking as an opportunity to share updates on grants issued over the years and the economic impact the company has had in The Dalles community.
Google has given out $2 million in grants since 2008, said Darcy Nothnagle, head of eternal affairs Northwest. Two major grants were announced at the grand-opening: an additional $100,000 to North Wasco County School District 21 for technology updates, following a $140,000 grant last year for the project.
The school district will also receive another $100,000 this year as the second part of a computer science grant issued last year. Google also announced it will give $50,000 to The Dalles Wasco County Library system to increase the number of Wi-Fi hotspots available for loan.
“Many projects have been helped and many more will be helped in the future,” said Wasco County Commissioner Scott Hege, part of the negotiating team that worked to bring Google to town.
“We’re very happy to celebrate another investment in our county,” he said at the celebration.
Other Google grants include more than $450,000 for free Wi-Fi network in The Dalles; $24,606 for 4-H programs and $60,000 for an Oregon Robotics Tournament and Outreach Program. There have been other awards given to the county and surrounding communities.
“Oregon is a place where innovation thrives, and it’s wonderful that the world’s best tech companies continue to invest in our state,” Gov. Kate Brown said of the event.
“Google’s investments in our rural communities bring exciting new opportunities and good jobs for Oregonians. I’m focused on finding more ways to support economic growth throughout the state, and this new data center represents the types of investments and jobs that my Future Ready Oregon initiative seeks to expand.”
Google has 200 full-time employees in The Dalles and, when the new data center is complete, another 50 jobs will be created, Nothnagle said. The company has hired more than 1,000 construction workers and expects to employ more than 750 during an expansion of the third building to accommodate computer equipment.
“The positive impact on our economy has been terrific,” said Lisa Farquharson, president and CEO of The Dalles Area Chamber of Commerce.
“Local businesses have really felt the economic benefit of the 1,000 construction jobs over the last year. Even more than the jobs, the impact that Google has had on education here in The Dalles has been incredible. The impact on our students has been amazing to see, and none of this would happen without Google,” she said.
State Rep. Daniel Bonham, R-The Dalles, also commended the positive community impact of “Googlers.”
“I can’t believe you guys call yourselves that,” he joked.
Bonham then said: “[Google is] setting our students up for long term success. It’s been fun seeing Google interact with the city.”
Google is within a city/county Enterprise Zone, which grants startup tax breaks for a specific period of time.
In lieu of regular taxes, the county will receive 11.4 cents per cubic foot for the Taylor Lake data center’s 9 million cubic feet for the next 15 years, adding to about $1.2 million per year already being paid on two completed structures.
That is three times the amount any other Wasco County business or individuals pay, Hege said. Once payments start on the new building later this year, he said Google will be paying more than $2 million per year, which is significantly higher than the amount paid by other companies.
The Dalles Mayor Steve Lawrence and state Sen. Cliff Bentz, R-Ontario, praised the tax policies that brought Google to The Dalles.
“I’m hoping we’ll continue to address those tax issues in a way that benefits communities like this as well as Google. I think Oregon is extremely fortunate to have Google in it, as is The Dalles,” Bentz said.
Lawrence said, “As I’ve always said, I love Google.” He called the company an integral part of The Dalles community. “We are partners in economic growth, community relations and quality of life. Our relationship is based on the growth of our area and friendship.”
Some citizens have objecting to Google, a company with huge assets, getting tax breaks as an issue of “fairness.”