Letter: Prineville is now Primed-ville

By Betty Roppe and Roger Lee /

Published Jun 4, 2014 at 12:01AM

Four years ago, at the height of the Great Recession, Prineville and Crook County had the highest unemployment rate in Oregon at a whopping 17 percent. The situation was dire: A major employer had moved its headquarters elsewhere, and wood-products manufacturing went through major downsizing following the national housing bust. People were struggling to feed their families, and many were leaving the area to find work.

But at the same time, a group of city, county and regional leaders were working to diversify what was historically an agriculture and wood-products economy into other sectors, including high technology. Crook County happened to be one of five sites on the West Coast approached by a company — operating under the name “Vitesse” — looking to open a technology center.

It wasn’t going to be easy. It took an entire community — elected officials, state and local government staffs, economic development offices and others — to make the project come together. Thanks to their perseverance, Prineville became home to the first data center built by Facebook.

From an economic activity perspective, an investment like Facebook’s was like water in the desert. We all know what water does in the desert — it makes things grow.

An economic impact study prepared by ECONorthwest shows the impact so far: During the data center’s construction, between 2009-2013, 651 jobs have benefited from the project in Central Oregon and 3,592 have benefited statewide. The report further documents, “total economic output associated with the construction of the data center and its 2013 operations was $573 million.”

More than 100 people are now employed full-time at the data center, and 85 percent of them live in Crook County. They’re people like Angie Weatherman and Sam Viles, both Crook County High School graduates, who’ve been able to stay in their hometown, working as data center technicians — great jobs that provide a living wage, benefits and bonuses. Many more people from Prineville now work at Facebook in a wide variety of roles, helping run one of the most sophisticated facilities of its kind in the world.

Today, Facebook’s data center operations in Prineville are linked to approximately $45 million in output, and 207 jobs in Central Oregon. These people include those working directly for Facebook, in addition to those employed by other businesses making sure operations at the data center run smoothly. For the entire state, operations in 2013 are linked to approximately $65 million in output and 266 jobs. Furthermore, every $1 million in Facebook payroll supports another $500,000 in income elsewhere in the state, and every 10 jobs at Facebook drive another 14 jobs in other sectors of the Oregon economy.

This economic activity is also adding to our tax base. In 2013 alone, Facebook’s operations in Oregon and the economic activity they generated are associated with nearly $500,000 in property taxes and more than $750,000 in Oregon personal income taxes. During the five years of construction, the state collected more than $6.5 million in personal income taxes as a result of the project.

This green data center — one of the most energy efficient on the planet — also led to more “economic greening” for Prineville. Significant investments in infrastructure, including high-speed fiber optic cable and improvements to the Ponderosa substation, have boosted transmission capacity to Prineville by 400 megawatts. That’s power available to all companies and residents in the tri-county area. Thanks to help from Sen. Ron Wyden, Congressman Greg Walden and the Bonneville Power Administration, these improvements will benefit residents and industries throughout Crook County and the entire Central Oregon region for generations to come. Apple is also here as a result, with its new data center campus, enabling more businesses to expand and locate here.

Our schools and students are rising to the occasion, too, with the new coursework around server maintenance at the COCC Crook County Open Campus and the first Tech Club at the high school.

Today, Prineville’s economic well is primed and ready for new industries, jobs and opportunities, because our community has come together to build a brighter future.

— Bette Roppe is the mayor of Prineville and Roger Lee is the executive director of Economic Development for Central Oregon.