But on the rimrock summit overlooking this city, the county seat and home to 10,000 residents, Facebook is sinking the footings for the first of two 450,000-square-foot data centers that together will cost $1 billion when completed in 2021. The immense buildings will join the four existing data centers, totaling 1.27 million square feet, that Facebook has built here since 2010 at a cost of $1.1 billion. They are among 11 centers the company has built in the United States and overseas.
Nearby, Apple built its own $988 million, 660,000-square-foot data center, which the company will soon expand to one million square feet. It is one of seven built by Apple in the United States. One more is under construction in Iowa, and three others are planned in China, Denmark and Ireland, according to an Apple spokeswoman.
The Facebook and Apple projects here are part of a wave of global data center construction and development, a market valued at $88 billion last year, according to Synergy Research Group, a market research firm in Reno, Nev.
There's not much architectural excitement about a data center. But the windowless, big-box buildings form the climate-controlled central nervous system of online commerce and communications. They are as essential to the basic economic infrastructure of the 21st century as iron ore mines and auto assembly plants were to the 20th.
What distinguishes them is their size. Prineville's Facebook and Apple centers are among 386 "hyperscale" data centers around the world, built and operated by the 24 biggest internet and technology companies, including Alibaba, Alphabet, Amazon, eBay, Microsoft and Yahoo. A study this year by Cisco, the Silicon Valley networking company, projected the number of hyperscale data centers to grow to 628 by 2021. Those centers could command more than half of all data center internet traffic. The United States accounts for more than half of all data center construction, Cisco said, followed by Asia, Western Europe and Latin America.
A study in 2017 by CBRE Research found that certain metropolitan regions — Chicago, Detroit, New Jersey, New York, Northern Virginia and Silicon Valley — were the most active areas for data center construction in the United States.
Like the big industrial projects of the previous century, the investments that Facebook, Apple and their competitors have made in land, buildings and equipment are considerable, typically more than $1 billion each. The centers consume prodigious amounts of electricity and water, just like factories. Property tax breaks that Oregon and other states use to lure data centers also are comparable. What is different is slim staffing.
Facebook employs around 200 people here to manage buildings 1,000 feet long. Inside are aisle after aisle of computer servers networked to receive, store, stream and transmit the flood of digital bytes that steer daily life for more than two billion people.
"The market is very big because the demand is huge," said Rob Johnson, chief executive of Vertiv, a $4 billion global technology company in Columbus, Ohio, that designs, builds and supplies equipment to data centers. "Data centers serve the requirements for all the smartphones, streaming, high-definition video and all the new applications like autonomous vehicles. The technology is driving immense amounts of data and traffic."
Lucrative tax incentives are the rare area of data center development that has come under criticism. Iowa last year awarded Apple $208 million in tax breaks to build a $1.3 billion center in rural Waukee that would employ 50 people.
"The big tech companies are getting huge tax breaks to build things they would build anyway," said Greg LeRoy, executive director of Good Jobs First, a research group in Washington. "The cost to taxpayers is enormous for data centers that create very few permanent jobs."
Oregon's incentive package allows both companies to avoid property taxes for 15 years, saving Facebook and Apple roughly $45 million each over that period. State law also has a sweetener for cities. Companies receiving the tax break are required to pay employees 150 percent of the median regional wage. Prineville data center workers earn at least $60,000 a year.