In a sun-kissed celebration, Google’s marriage to Caldwell County and its residents became complete.

During grand-opening festivities Wednesday at its data center in Lenoir, Google welcomed both young and old, giving area citizens the opportunity to witness the massive scale of the Internet giant’s estimated $600 million investment.

Gov. Mike Easley made his first appearance in Caldwell County in four years and took part in a ribbon-cutting ceremony with Caldwell County and Google officials.

“This is important to us that you are here and managing it right,” Easley said. “We’ve got a lot invested in this.”

In order to attract Google to the Tar Heel state, the company received a host of local and state incentives, including no sales tax on electrical power and computer equipment purchases, along with Caldwell County and City of Lenoir rebates on business and real estate property taxes for 30 years. Estimates put the overall value of the incentives at more than $200 million.

“We have to level the playing field with performance-based incentives,” Easley said. “The most important message is that a great county like Caldwell needs Google, but Google needs the great work force that is North Carolina.”

Easley’s last visit to the county was in 2004 and was in very different circumstances. The governor toured flood-ravaged areas of the county, including Collettsville, following a pair of tropical storms.

“This is a much better occasion,” Easley said. “It’s much better to be Santa than it is to be Scrooge.”

Registered attendees were bused from Lenoir Mall to the data center site, located on approximately 213 acres off Harrisburg Road and Overlook Drive near N.C. Highway 18. They were greeted with a live band, catered barbecue, activities for kids, Google demonstrations, snow cones and cotton candy.

Google Operations Manager Tom Jacobik said testing of the data center, which will house the company’s expansive network of computer servers, has begun. While the first building is nearing completion, a second building on the upper tier of the construction site is being developed.
“It’s still a work in progress, as you can see,” Jacobik said. “We will continue to build on what we’ve got here.”

When finished, the Google site is expected to be a major routing center for the company’s Internet search and applications engines along the East Coast. Aside from the investment, which totaled $172 million in business and real estate property at the beginning of the year, Google is projected to create up to 200 jobs.

Lenoir Mayor David Barlow said Google’s arrival signifies a new era, following the loss of thousands of manufacturing jobs in the furniture and textile industries during the past eight years.

“Lenoir has a history of having some of the country’s top corporations call Caldwell County home,” he said. “Whether it’s furniture or data centers, we are a can-do community.”

Caldwell County Board of Commissioners Chairman Herb Greene said he believes Google is developing close ties to the community, particularly through events such as Wednesday’s.

“What you are seeing happening is a two-way adoption,” he said. “We are one family. Google did something for us as a county, and Google has moved us into the 21st century.”

Editor’s note: This story is reprinted with permission of The News-Topic.