Colorado Springs News, Sports & Business

Gazette Premium Content Wal-Mart's new data center seen as a big plus for city

RICH LADEN Updated: November 23, 2012 at 12:00 am

This is one Wal-Mart without greeters at the door, where there are no signs touting low prices and where customers aren’t welcome.

Last month, Wal-Mart quietly opened its $100 million, 210,000-square-foot corporate data center on Colorado Springs’ far north side, a nondescript, mauve-colored building that looks like nothing more than a large distribution center.

There was no announcement and no grand opening gala to signal the building’s completion. But as quiet as Wal-Mart has made this facility, some local business people say it has the potential to speak volumes on the community’s behalf.

The data center was considered an economic development coup for Colorado Springs when Wal-Mart agreed in July 2011 to build the facility in a business park on Federal Drive, southeast of InterQuest and Voyager parkways.

Local government officials and business leaders wooed the world’s No. 1 retailer with financial incentives — $4.5 million in sales and business personal property tax rebates. In exchange, local officials estimated the project would pump roughly $488 million into the local economy over its first 15 years.

Wal-Mart officials offered little comment  when asked about the project recently; they simply confirmed the data center opened in October after more than a year of construction and said other previously reported details about the project were correct.

At the time Wal-Mart agreed to build the data center in the Springs, local officials said it would employ about 30 people and that Wal-Mart would spend about $100 million on construction and another $50 million to $100 million on machinery and equipment over 15 years.

Local officials also had said the data center would help the retailer operate its websites and internal computer networks.

The exterior of the sprawling Wal-Mart data center is nicely landscaped with vegetation, stones and large rocks, but it’s ringed by a decorative wrought-iron fence to ward off intruders. A guard station checks employees and visitors in and out.

Because a data center contains sensitive technology and isn’t open to the public, it’s not usual for a business to open and operate such a facility quietly, said David White, chief business development officer for the Colorado Springs Regional Business Alliance.

“It’s not uncommon for a data center not to have a grand opening or a ribbon cutting or something to that effect, since for the plain and simple fact that this is a mission critical facility,” he said. “They don’t want it to be publicized. It’s a very critical facility. It has a lot of investment. Not a lot of job count, but a lot of investment by the company. And they need to maintain its security.”

The building’s low profile aside, White and others say they expect the data center to be a big plus for the community.

In addition to its long-term economic benefits, there were about 200 people who worked on the building’s construction, while local suppliers benefited from Wal-Mart’s purchase of building materials, White said.

Business leaders hope that being on Wal-Mart’s radar screen will lead the retailer to locate offices, a distribution center or other future facilities in the Springs, he said.

Likewise, with Wal-Mart’s data center joining those locally operated by Progressive Insurance, FedEx and Hewlett Packard, local officials hope other corporations will take notice of the Springs.

“Once you get a major company that makes an investment in your community, it sends a message to other companies that this is a good place to do business,” White said. “A good place to have a data center. Wal-Mart is known to do their due diligence.”

Colorado Springs general contractor Vince Colarelli, who’s developing about 100 acres on the Springs’ south side as a business park to house data centers, said Wal-Mart is providing a public relations boost for his project.

As he courts businesses to locate data centers in his business park, corporations are taking note of Wal-Mart’s decision, Colarelli said. In every conversation he’s had with potential users, Wal-Mart’s name — along with that of Progressive, HP and FedEx — comes up, Colarelli said.

As a result, Wal-Mart’s presence points to local benefits that city leaders say make the Springs especially attractive as a home for data centers — such as low-cost and reliable electricity and a lack of natural disasters that could knock out a data center and disrupt a corporation’s internal operations, Colarelli said.

“The presence of Wal-Mart in Colorado Springs,” he said, “helps provide credibility on a national market basis about all of the benefits of Colorado Springs as a location for data centers that we’ve been marketing.”

Contact Rich Laden: 636-0228 Twitter @richladen
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