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Iowa, Nebraska Competing for $1.2 Billion Data Center

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DES MOINES, Iowa (AP) A state economic development official said Thursday that Iowa is competing with Nebraska to attract a $1.2 billion data center.

Debi Durham, director of the state Partnership for Economic Progress, said she can't name the company due to a confidentiality agreement. She said it's not Google, Microsoft or IBM, all of which already have operations in Iowa.

"From a public relations standpoint, this is a company a lot of people want," Durham said.

Durham says the company is considering two locations in Iowa and one in Nebraska. It's unclear what areas are being considered in Iowa, but Nebraska Sen. Annette Dubas of Fullerton said a rural area is being considered as the project site in her state.

"Technology is what is going to help spark that energy, what we need to grow rural Nebraska," Dubas said.

The company hopes to begin construction in May, Durham said. She expects the Iowa Economic Development Authority Board to hear the plan and consider incentives to attract the business at a March meeting.

Nebraska lawmakers on Thursday gave first-round approval to an incentive package aimed at helping land the project. It includes sales, property and personal tax breaks for companies that invest at least $300 million and create at least 30 new jobs.

"This bill is absolutely essential to building Nebraska and providing good-paying, high-tech jobs for the state," said Bellevue Sen. Abbie Cornett.

Iowa already has a law aimed at attracting high-tech projects, which includes a sales tax break on electricity used at those operations.

"What they're going to do is try to play us against each other," Durham said of the company.

Durham said the competition with Nebraska is a perfect example of why lawmakers in Iowa need to provide more incentives for major projects like this one. Last month Durham pitched a plan that would put future funding for a proposed $25 million jobs incentive program on autopilot.

Under that proposal, state tax collections from any jobs created or retained under the program would increasingly fund the program over a 10-year period, removing the need for lawmakers to regularly approve funding.

"Of course we can't give up the farm, but we need tools to attract these projects," Durham said.

Sen. Bill Dotzler, a Waterloo Democrat and chairman of a Senate economic development budget subcommittee, has concerns about losing control of how those state tax dollars are spent year to year.

Dotzler said the Senate is prepared to provide about $20 million for the program this year, but isn't yet on board with giving up legislative oversight of future funds.

"I know that we're in real competition with other states and it's crucial that we provide some funding to land this project," Dotzler said.

The House hasn't included such funding in its budget plan, House Speaker Kraig Paulsen said Thursday. But he maintained the partnership still has other ways to provide incentives.

"The partnership hasn't made their case to us," said Paulsen, a Hiawatha Republican.

Bellevue Sen. Scott Price of Nebraska said lawmakers there have worked diligently in recent years to attract high-tech companies to the state by approving tax incentives for those businesses.

"We're waiting for something to come to fruition for all these efforts, and this is one of those projects," he said.

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