NSA Building a new Data Center in Utah

(SALT LAKE TRIBUNE)   Utah’s construction economy will get a huge boost — likely rivaling the effect of the downtown City Creek Center project — when ground is broken on a new National Security Agency Data Center at Camp Williams next year, according to construction sector officials.

That’s good news for Utah’s construction industry, especially in light of word Tuesday that business software giant Oracle has frozen construction on a much-heralded data center it began building in West Jordan in 2008. Three months ago, Oracle quietly stopped work on the $313 million project.

The NSA will spend more than that on electrical work alone at its new center, a 1-million-square foot venture that will cost nearly $2 billion to build, according to budget documents.

Alan Rindlisbacher, a former state economic development officer who now advises one of Utah’s largest contracting companies, said the NSA project would be “enormous.”

And it couldn’t have come at a better time, he said, noting that Utah’s construction industry has been one of the hardest-hit sectors during the recent recession.

“You look at this type of a project, and there is no question it will have a positive impact on jobs created for the construction industry,” said Rindlisbacher, marketing director for Layton Construction Co.

At the request of The Salt Lake Tribune , Rindlisbacher and other Layton officials reviewed initial budget documents from the NSA. Though the documents were sparse in detail — the records were created to give members of Congress a basic idea of the size, scope and purpose of the NSA building — Rindlisbacher said he believed the project could have an economic impact similar to that of the City Creek Center project. Without that $1.5 billion effort, which is being funded by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, the local construction industry “would be dismal,” he said.

To describe what the NSA construction effort will look like, he invoked another nearby techno-industrial operation: The sprawling IM Flash Technologies plant in Lehi, which produces high-demand chips used in digital music players, cell phones and laptops. Micron began building that plant in 1995.

“On a typical construction site you might see two or three contractors’ trailers,” Rindlisbacher said. “That Micron job had dozens. All the trades were there. It was literally a construction city.”

There were more than 4,600 construction workers at the Lehi site at the project’s height, but Layton and others were forced to lay off workers and mothball the project in 1996 when the computer chip market tanked. The project was later brought back online.

Officials from the Governor’s Office of Economic Development faulted similar forces for halting the construction of the Oracle center in West Jordan. The planned 200,000-square-foot facility on the city’s west side, which was supposed to open in early 2010, was hailed as a “big coup for the state” by Governor’s Office of Economic Development officials when Gov. Jon Huntsman and Sen. Orrin Hatch ceremoniously broke ground at the site in October.

Now, economic development spokesman Mike Sullivan said, Oracle has “put it on hold for a little while” while waiting for the economy to rebound.

West Jordan Community Development Director Tom Burdett said that while the construction halt was disappointing — the completed center would have had a payroll of about $7.3 million — he was hopeful that work would soon resume at the site, where Atlanta-based contractor Holder has already done significant work. Neither Oracle nor Holder returned calls seeking comment on Tuesday.

Burdett noted that the construction stoppage occurred just as Oracle announced its acquisition of Sun Microsystems. Perhaps not coincidentally, Sun had recently completed construction of a “super efficient” data center in Broomfield, Colo., and had just announced the an economic-development agreement with the Colorado Springs City Council to build another $260 million center there when Oracle announced the merger.

Sullivan said that the company had not communicated the reason for the stoppage with the governor’s office, either, but noted that none of the incentives offered to come to Utah would be divvied out unless the plant opened.

In the meantime, however, Lt. Gov. Gary Herbert expressed great satisfaction with the news that a much larger data center would be built in Utah.

“We are excited about the economic and employment opportunities this project will present for the great people and communities of Utah,” Herbert said in a statement. “I look forward to the opportunity to discuss the details of this important initiative in the near future.”


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