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Largest social media networking site coming to Stanton Springs
Facebook officially accepted Newton County's friend request with the announcement of a data center coming to Stanton Springs. - photo by Brian Worton

Jackie Gutknecht

Facebook, the world’s largest social networking site, will build a massive data center in northern Newton County.

The California-based company will make a multimillion-dollar investment at Stanton Springs near Social Circle, Gov. Nathan Deal and U.S. Rep. Jody Hice said Wednesday at the State Capitol.

“The No. 1 company in the world in terms of active users has chosen the No. 1 state for business for a significant economic development project,” Deal said.

Planned investment in the billions

 The first phase of Facebook’s Newton Data Center, formerly known as Morning Hornet LLC, will include an investment of about $750 million with a 970,000-square-foot facility.

Shane Short, executive director of the Development Authority of Walton County, said the total planned investment, spread over a 20-year time period, is $42 billion, which was issued as bonds. As an incentive, Facebook will receive 100 percent tax abatement for 20 years. Instead of taxes, Facebook will make PILOT (payment in lieu of taxes) payments.

“That (PILOT) amount agreed upon was $88 million estimate, because it is actually based per building, a payment per building,” he said.

The PILOT payments will be made to the Joint Development Authority of Jasper, Morgan, Newton and Walton Counties.

“The reason there is a set ($42 billion) limit there – not just for Facebook, but for any bond – is because when there is a tax abatement involved we set a limit on that because it also limits the tax abatement,” he said.

Serra P. Hall, the director of commercial development of the Newton County Office of Economic Development, said these are not financial bonds.

“They are not taking money, this is not a financial burden whatsoever, they’re not mutual bonds or industrial revenue bonds, which is why it is more critical about how we assess the bonds that that’s basically their threshold, or how much they’re looking to commit over the possible 20 years,” she said. “So it’s just an estimate of the cost there.”

Short said this type of bond is typically called a “phantom bond.”

Facebook could attract more locally

Facebook is just the beginning. Hall said she has received calls from several other companies looking to located close to the new data center.

“Just within the last week or so I’ve been overrun with calls from hoteliers, restaurants, gas stations and different pieces of interest to come in, I’d say fairly soon,” Hall said. “I think that we’re in a prime area between exits 98 and 101 for new developments to come in.

“Also, with Georgia State at exit 98 and the class that’s there, we only look for the future to continue for good growth.”

Short said he expects 2018 to continue to be a good economic year for the local communities.

“There’s a tremendous amount of economic activity lately, even before this announcement on those exits,” he said.

“It’s really exciting,” Hall said. “This is not what we see as the last of Newton and Walton County for our joint partnership together and I think that’s what is exciting that we’re just starting. I’ve said that before. This is the beginning for Newton and Walton County and really our relationship and our partnership for our mega sites and other areas.”

Marcello Banes, chairman of the Newton County Board of Commissioners, said he is looking forward to the partnership of Facebook.

“This is a big day for Newton County,” he said. We’re excited about Facebook being in our community. It’s a wonderful partnership. We look forward to being partners with Facebook.

“Facebook is a household name throughout the world. Everybody’s on Facebook. To have Facebook in our community along with Shire, so many possibilities open up and we’re excited about it. We welcome them to Newton County. Go Facebook!”

Employment opportunities available

Facebook will have more than 100 full-time employees, and officials said thousands of construction jobs will be needed for the project.

Hice, R-Ga., said he expects the company’s investment “will open the door to hundreds of jobs for Georgians, while strengthening key industries that are spurring economic growth statewide.

“Under the leadership of Gov. Deal, Georgia has become a powerhouse for businesses. In fact, we are now consistently ranked as one of the top states in which to do business.”

Groundbreaking is expected later this month and the data center is expected to come online in the first quarter of 2020.

 It will be the ninth U.S. data center for Facebook Inc.

Editor and Publisher David Clemons contributed to this report.