Google and its uber popular search engine apparently have found a long-term home in Oklahoma.
The Internet services company doubled down on its commitment in September, announcing the opening of a new four-story facility that will help push the company’s investment in the state to $2 billion by 2018.
“What it does is that it lends credibility to MidAmerica (Industrial Park),” said David Stewart, chief administrative officer of MidAmerica, which houses the firm’s 800-acre campus. “Google would not be here unless they had done their homework and researched it.
“… Not only did they make the decision to come here, but they’ve made the decision to stay here and grow here. It just validates the work that we do to help them with all of their infrastructure needs, which is critical. If they don’t have the water and the power and all of the fiber and all that, they can’t operate.”
Google announced it was coming to Oklahoma in 2007, and its first data center opened in the MidAmerica Industrial Park four years later. By the time Google unveiled its second building in 2012, the company’s investment in the state was $700 million.
“When we were here five years ago, I don’t think anybody understood … the lightning speed that Google would grow in Oklahoma,” said Gov. Mary Fallin, who attended Friday’s dedication. “… That’s remarkable speed and growth here in Pryor. It’s because of the hard work of Dave at the MidAmerica Industrial Park and all of those who have worked so hard to make great things happen … Those dividends, those efforts that so many have worked toward making us business-friendly have certainly paid off with Google adding and adding and adding more jobs.”
Andrew Silvestri, Google’s head of public policy and external affairs for the central United States, said the new facility will streamline the land usage and data center operations for Google, which employs at least 400 people in Pryor.
“We’re really appreciative of the local officials, members of the community,” Silvestri said this week in a telephone interview. “Having a governor and a state Legislature, community leaders who are so pro-business really helps us operate at Google speed. Oklahoma is certainly our home, and it has been key to Google’s growth over the last several years.”
Also, Google announced the giving of a $100,000 grant to the Workforce Development division of the MidAmerica Industrial Park to support the continued growth and development of STEM education in northeast Oklahoma. The company has given $1.5 million to nonprofits and schools since 2011.
“One thing about Google, it’s ‘we,’ ” Pryor Mayor Jimmy Tramel said. “Google has involved the community, the schools, the state of Oklahoma. There’s no ‘me.’ It’s ‘we.’”
Google says its data centers are among the most efficient in the world, using 50 percent less energy than the typical data center. The tech giant has purchased nearly 2.5 gigawatts of renewable energy for its data centers around the world, including in Oklahoma, where it has signed four contracts for 572 megawatts of wind energy in Grady, Caddo, Beaver, Dewey, Ellis, and Woodward counties, which have resulted in more than $500 million of additional investment in Oklahoma, according to the company.
Google was recruited to Oklahoma with the help of what is known as the manufacturing ad valorem exemption. It’s a state-sponsored business incentive, approved by Oklahoma voters in 1985, that exempts certain types of business investment from property taxes for five years.
During that time, the business pays taxes on the original value of the property, and state taxpayers pick up the tab for what the business would have paid on the additional value of the new or expanded capacity.
These payments are made to local governments — primarily school districts and county government — through what is known as the ad valorem reimbursement fund.
From the time Google opened its first data center in Pryor in 2011, the local school district’s total assessed property valuation grew to $325.6 million in 2015, an increase of 168 percent, the Tulsa World reported in May. Over that same span, Mayes County’s assessed property valuation ballooned to $498.4 million, a rise of 82 percent.
“The impact from Google and the five county schools has been tremendous,” said Don Raleigh, superintendent for the Pryor school district. “It’s not only the fact that they are here, building jobs. They raised the bar for us. We have 17 (Google) mentors who come in our buildings and make a contribution, not talking about grant money or anything else. They are actually in our classrooms with our robotics teams and physics classes.
“It’s blessed us in that the property taxes have changed the dynamic, which in a lot of ways, helps the state because we’re no longer on the state formula, which means more money for other schools.”