Life without a smart phone is hard to imagine for many of us. Every answer at our fingertips—any person a few digits away. Technology is intertwined with nearly every aspect of our lives, and yet, few think about the infrastructure that supports it.
Enter, data centers. That is, large groups of networked computer servers used by organizations for the remote storage, processing or distribution of large amounts of information. Chicago Industrial Properties recently spoke with Craig Huffman, Co-Founder & CEO of Metro Edge Development Partners to find out more about what will be one of the biggest projects of its kind: Metro Edge’s $257 million, 200,000-square-foot, five-story facility to be built in West Side Chicago.
The project has been a few years in the making. Metro Edge started the process of securing the site in the Illinois Medical District (IMD) a few months after the onset of COVID-19, and from there began working on securing the rights to build. Recently Metro Edge finalized agreements with Corgan, Clune Construction, Power Construction and Ujamaa Construction to design and build the facility, and the project is expected to have full entitlements within the next few months and break ground shortly thereafter. The facility has already secured 50% preleasing.
The benefits to this type of project are vast, as are the benefits of its future location within the IMD. The Affordable Care Act (2010) required the digitization of medical records, among other things, which sparked the need for this kind of facility. Several healthcare buildings in and around the IMD will utilize the new facility, but it’s not just healthcare. The high-performance facility will also address the needs of local and regional financial, educational and government organizations.
Technology is the root of it, and it’s no surprise the pandemic accelerated its adoption. We’re more dependent on it than we were just a year ago, let alone 10. Data centers are the infrastructure needed to support the adoption of new technology. It’s the storage of data, but also the connectivity that supports companies providing basic functions, according to Huffman.
“Regardless of industry, these facilities are an important part of ensuring that technology is reliable and accessible for the masses,” Huffman said.
Chicago, specifically, is a prime location in terms of connectivity, making it especially desirable for this type of venture.
“Chicago is an attractive site because we’re in the middle of the country and have great fiber,” Huffman said. “Fiber and power are the determining factors with regard to whether or not a data center can be developed in a particular location.”
Yet this isn’t the first of its kind in the area. In fact, there are quite a few data centers around Chicagoland. What sets this one apart? There are few in urban settings, like this one, and as technology continues to evolve, more of this kind are needed. But they’re not cheap, and though demand is greater than supply, it takes years of planning to get them out of the ground.
And while it’s also worth mentioning that these centers don’t create as many jobs compared to other, more labor-intensive facilities, the jobs are future facing—and higher paying. It’s estimated that artificial intelligence will eliminate a substantial number of manual jobs over the next decade, and data centers are part of the new economy. Technology has reduced the number of jobs, but it’s part of the broader societal shift.
The construction of this particular data center will support over 200 construction jobs and, once completed, over 70 full-time jobs in a variety of fields including data center engineers, electricians, tech support personnel, and operations.