The stage was set for Google's $600 million New Albany data center in 2014, when Amazon announced a $1.1 billion investment for central Ohio.
Amazon's decision then to build data centers in New Albany, Dublin and Hilliard drew attention.
"Where they chose to go, the world noticed," said Ted Griffith, managing director for technology, logistics and distribution for JobsOhio, a private, nonprofit economic-development organization. "Amazon was the beginning, the spark, and others followed."
Amazon's move was followed in 2017 by Facebook's $750 million data-center investment in New Albany, which was expanded to a three-building campus covering 1.5 million square feet.
Now, Google is joining the crowd. On Nov. 1, it officially celebrated breaking ground this year on its new facility.
Construction of data centers in a certain area tends to lead to more data centers, akin to what has happened with the growth of distribution centers in central Ohio, Griffith said. That's why hundreds of acres might be necessary, he said.
"Major players, when they've gone in, they make it operational immediately and build the next one right next to it," he said, noting that Amazon went on in 2017 to announce 12 more data centers in central Ohio.
Google and New Albany
Google's 400-acre data center is expected to open in a year.
The project was announced in February, when Google CEO Sundar Pichai released plans for $13 billion in investments this year in data centers and offices across the U.S.
The company didn't disclose the size of the facility or number of workers it will have.
The selection of that site was the result of a global search, said Andrew Silvestri, head of public policy and community development for Google data centers.
"New Albany truly stood out because of the infrastructure that they have in place and also because of the talent and workforce pipelines that the community has worked to foster over the years," Silvestri said.
A year ago, the Ohio Tax Credit Authority approved state tax incentives worth an estimated $43.5 million for the project. The company also figures to be eligible for other incentives that the state has given to data-center projects, such as breaks on sales taxes as long as the investment exceeds $100 million and total payroll of $1.5 million.
Google has one of nine data-center projects in New Albany.
Rather than focusing on becoming a magnet for those facilities, community-development director Jennifer Chrysler said, the city instead markets to information-technology operations and businesses that complement the data hubs.
Those include call centers and corporate offices tied to the data centers, she said.
Attracting a mix of businesses within an industry cluster creates an ecosystem of complementary companies and businesses, Chrysler said.
"That's a good economic-development strategy, and it's a sustainable economic-development strategy," she said.
The city's business-development plan includes identifying land that should be part of the New Albany International Business Park and then identifying the infrastructure -- including roads, water and sewer services -- needed to support that development, Chrysler said.
The 4,000-acre park along the state Route 161 corridor has more than 10 million square feet and is home to such companies as Discover and Aetna. The Google data center is being built there.
Those operations require miles of fiber-optic cable and lots of electricity, Chrysler said.
Although New Albany had planned to build a fiber-optic network, the city was able to implement it more quickly throughout the business park because of an American Electric Power facility built in 2008 on nearby Smith's Mill Road, Chrysler said.
The power and the fiber-optic network needed for that facility, which supports the energy grid for the 12-state region AEP serves, enabled New Albany to begin pitching that to other businesses by showing that infrastructure already is in place, Chrysler said.
That marketing proved successful.
The same year that AEP's facility was built, Nationwide Mutual Insurance Co.'s data center was approved for a site at 7300 Souder Road; it opened in 2012. The facility and its 17 acres recently were purchased by data-center company Stack Infrastructure, which plans future data-center development at the site.
Two other data centers opened around the same time: for Encova (formerly Motorists Insurance) in 2010 and TJX, the operator of TJ Maxx stores, in 2011.
Ohio's data-center growth
The growth in data centers is tied to the explosion in cloud computing as companies small and large create more and more data and digital services that need to be stored on remote servers.
"Data centers enable Google to power your searches, organize documents and emails and help you find the fastest way home," Mark Isakowitz, Google's vice president of U.S. public policy, said in a statement Nov. 1.
Ohio has more than 120 data centers, including at least 50 in central Ohio, representing billions of dollars of investments, Griffith said.
In the push to do more online, it doesn't matter if you're "an artisan who builds something in a small business to sell to others or if you're Nationwide Insurance or Huntington (Bancshares) or a massive company," Griffith said.
Ohio is ideally suited for data centers because there is little risk of earthquakes, hurricanes, flooding or tornadoes compared with other parts of the country. Central Ohio has ample sources of low-cost electricity and a mild climate that keeps energy costs low, along with the tech-savvy talent needed to run the data centers.
Although the data centers often don't supply many jobs, construction of a typical project can create 1,000 jobs or more and, once finished, a data center often needs about 150 electricians, plumbers and other workers to maintain operations, Griffith said.
He said he believes the demand for data centers will continue to grow given the massive growth of data being created every day, and that positions Ohio to take advantage.
"We're building a cluster around cloud computing and the largest tech companies in the world," Griffith said.