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New Facebook Data Center sparks opportunities for DeKalb and NIU

July 27, 2020

Facebook’s recent announcement that it will build a data center in DeKalb is an exciting sign of progress and growth for the region. The environmentally sustainable 907,000-square-foot facility, located off Gurler Road on DeKalb’s south side, will bring a substantial investment (about $800 million in phase one) in construction and infrastructure, as well as long-term benefits to DeKalb and NIU.

Once constructed, the new Facebook Data Center will be a 907,000-square-foot facility, located off Gurler Road on DeKalb’s south side.

“It’s amazing that Facebook is making an investment of this magnitude in DeKalb County,” says NIU President Lisa Freeman. “In addition to the economic development benefits of this project, Facebook is prepared to invest significantly in other aspects of the community. I anticipate many opportunities for collaboration that will provide new educational experiences, interdisciplinary research projects and meaningful engagement initiatives.” 

A community-wide team worked diligently on the Facebook project over a period of several months.    DeKalb County Economic Development Corporation (DCEDC) Executive Director Paul Borek says the arrival of Facebook is the culmination of years – even decades – of work.

“DeKalb County is one of a limited number of locations having the unique combination of resources to support the data center industry, and we are grateful to the many public and private organizations that contributed to our successful attraction effort,” Borek says. 

“Facebook recognized that this is a community that has invested in its future,” says Cohen Barnes, CEO of Sundog IT, president of DCEDC and co-chair of DeKalb County UNITES.  “These investments didn’t just happen. They were planned. A lot of conversations, a lot of meetings, a lot of strategic planning took place over the course of a decade or two. And we’re now starting to see the fruits of that labor, which is really to bring economic diversity to our community and to make it a better place to live and work.”

“The data center is going to bring more people to the county, more high-tech jobs to the community and diversify the corporate property tax base, which is fantastic,” Barnes continues. “It’s also putting DeKalb on the map. Having Facebook stake a claim here in DeKalb is going to cause people to look more closely at DeKalb and what we have to offer.” 

The DeKalb Facebook Data Center is a positive development for both individual residents and local corporations.

DeKalb City Manager Bill Nicklas says, “The Facebook Data Center is a real compliment for the City of DeKalb. There are only 16 Facebook Data Centers in the whole world, and – although they could’ve chosen so many other places – this global company chose DeKalb. They want, as a company, to be part of the community here, engage with non-profits and make a difference. Everything we know about the data centers Facebook operates in other locations tells us that’s how they operate.”

President Freeman often talks about the importance of meaningful partnerships and sees countless opportunities ahead for a mutually beneficial relationship between Facebook and NIU. She has appointed her Chief of Staff, Matt Streb, as the university’s liaison between NIU and Facebook. 

“It’s exciting to think about the types of partnerships that can be created and what the results can mean for the university, for the community and for Facebook,” she says. “There will be opportunities for students at different levels, academic programs that can bring things to Facebook that Facebook might not have, and vice versa. The diverse backgrounds and lived experiences of NIU students align with Facebook’s commitment to inclusivity. Moreover, the Facebook Data Centers’ dedication to energy sustainability and being good stewards of the resources that they consume is consistent with current activities and future plans for the Northern Illinois Center for Community Sustainability and many other initiatives underway. It is going to be a dynamic and ongoing conversation.”

“This is a pivotal time for NIU and all of DeKalb County. I see this from my perspective as the president of the university, my role as a DCEDC board member and as a proud resident of DeKalb,” she says. “I’m excited about Facebook, Ferrara and a number of other prospects that are in the pipeline. These major business announcements within the last six months are just the beginning of what promises to be a great time for NIU and the surrounding community to grow together.”