Omaha-area economic development officials are looking to get a piece of Apple’s $30 billion-plus expansion plan announced last week, and they could already be pursuing it without even knowing.
The Silicon Valley tech giant will spend more than $10 billion on data center investments alone in the next five years, and it also plans to build a new corporate campus.
Tech support for customers would be the first function in the new campus, according to a statement from the company.
Given Omaha’s reputation as a center for back-office operations as well as data center facilities, the Apple announcement perked up some ears in local economic development circles last week.
Greater Omaha Chamber of Commerce Chief Executive David Brown said his organization’s economic development staff is already responding to site selectors’ requests for two data center proposals, but no one knows yet which companies are behind the requests, as those companies haven’t been disclosed.
“I’m certain we’re responding to data center requests for unknown clients and tech support clients. We just don’t know if any of them happen to be Apple,” Brown told The World-Herald on Friday.
Last week also brought news that Omaha didn’t make the cut on e-commerce merchant Amazon’s list of 20 potential sites for a second headquarters location that eventually will result in 50,000 hires. Among other factors, the city’s sub-3 percent unemployment rate means filling even a fraction of those positions would have been a tall order.
Apple’s plan calls for fewer jobs (20,000) that would presumably be scattered across multiple data centers and the new corporate campus.
It’s unclear whether the company has already dispatched site-selection teams to scout potential locations for any aspects of its five-year plan. A company spokesman declined to divulge information beyond what it shared in its Jan. 17 statement, which indicated it will announce the location of its new campus “later in the year.”
Local support centers with notable Silicon Valley ties include operations for PayPal and Yahoo.
Brown said those types of operations are higher-paying and generally require a better-educated workforce than outbound telemarketing gigs.
Meanwhile, data centers employ relatively few people but frequently require construction budgets worth hundreds of millions of dollars.
Those two prongs of the Apple plan have piqued the interest of economic development officials.
But there’s another: Apple’s commitment to powering its U.S. operations, including data centers, with only renewable energy sources.
“Prospective customers want to match their energy consumption with the energy output of a renewable project” like wind, said Tim O’Brien, director of economic development and external affairs for the Omaha Public Power District. “That’s what they are seeking to achieve.”
A new electric rate OPPD introduced last January lets large-volume electric customers do exactly that, and it was pivotal in landing a massive Facebook data center situated on 134 acres off Highway 50 and Capehart Road in Sarpy County. That project so far is on track to cost at least $435 million, according to Papillion building permits.
It also sparked the revival of a $430 million, 320-megawatt wind energy development in northeast Nebraska’s Dixon County. Facebook will buy 200 megawatts of that facility’s output and the rest will be sold to other buyers.
Apple buys renewable energy from electric utilities and also generates its own electricity from renewable sources.
OPPD’s O’Brien said the year-old rate structure that Facebook will use allows for both options.
Nebraska officials swung and missed on Facebook two times in the years preceding the April 2017 announcement, but they’ve said the previous fruitless efforts helped inform the success in Sarpy County.
The Chamber’s Brown is hopeful that the unsuccessful pitch to land Apple’s latest data center — a $1.3 billion development to be built in suburban Des Moines — gives Omaha an edge if Apple comes knocking again.
“We’re confident they know about us already, particularly from the data center perspective, which means they know about us more generally, too,” Brown said. “It’s a little bit nebulous right now about what exactly they’ll do, but we’re going to figure it out and we will be as aggressive as possible.”