- Associated Press - Thursday, February 27, 2014

CASPER, Wyo. (AP) - A fishing pole and a small tackle box sit in a locked data cabinet on the fourth floor of the Casper Business Center.

A technician started storing them after he got tired of making repeated trips to Wal-Mart for new gear every time he flew in to work on the servers his company has housed at the Mountain West Technology Networks data center.

Throughout the business center, 7,000 square feet of floor space is half-filled with the hum and glow of servers storing data from companies all over the world.

“What they’ve got here in this building has been a well-kept secret,” said Jim Grenfell, chief financial officer for Mountain West. “When I first came here, I was just flabbergasted by how nice and great and powerful this is to have right in the middle of Casper.”

Outside, hundreds of Casperites drive and walk by the eight-story building’s rock facade every day without a second thought as to what’s inside.

And just a few blocks away, the North Platte River wends its way through town, one of the many selling points Mountain West is using to promote what company officials hope will one day be a technology hub.

Mountain West, which is locally owned and operated, has a little more than a dozen clients. But a $905,249 grant from the Wyoming Business Council that Natrona County applied for would help the business expand and entice national companies to store some of their information in Casper.

Natrona County would use the grant to give Mountain West a break on power and broadband costs for three years. In return, Mountain West would add nine jobs and spend $1.4 million to upgrade its power and add backup systems.

Mountain West has another 4,500 square feet available for rapid expansion, but it has the ability to eventually fill the entire building with servers.

The Wyoming Business Council is scheduled to make its recommendation today. Staffers in charge of vetting the proposal offered a thumbs-up.

“The ultimate goal is to be able to attract national customers,” said Jim Moberly, president of Mountain West. “If we could entice some of the biggies to take that first step, it would make it easier to get future tenants.”

One of Mountain West’s most important selling points, and one that makes Wyoming as a whole a natural fit for data centers, is the lack of natural disasters.

The risks of sitting in the path of Mother Nature’s wrath were evident earlier this winter when a New Jersey stock trading company found itself out of business for three days after a major snowstorm shut down the data center where all the company’s information was stored.

“Now they’re looking at moving one rack (of servers) here. That’s the foot in the door,” Moberly said. “Are you going to move your data to Los Angeles on the fault line, Seattle where the tsunami is going to hit or Miami where the hurricanes are? Or you can move to Casper, where we are connected to all (those cities). That’s our play, connectivity and natural disaster avoidance.”

Storing information for out-of-state companies means drawing more money into Wyoming. Mountain West attracts a large percentage of its revenues from outside the state, in addition to bringing higher-paying jobs to Wyoming without adding a lot of people, Moberly said.

The widespread benefits to Wyoming’s economy are why state officials have been pushing so hard to attract the industry’s attention since 2006.

Wyoming established the grant Mountain West hopes to use to defray the cost of electrical power and broadband space for three years. That helps Wyoming data centers compete with the low prices available in places like Los Angeles and New York.

The program has provided $13.25 million in grants to Microsoft and Green House in Cheyenne and Ptolemy in Sheridan. Those data centers are expected to add 101 new jobs and $8.59 million in salaries during the life of the grant.

Microsoft also received $5 million from a pool of money meant to allow the governor to recruit data centers.

Wyoming data centers can also purchase equipment like servers, which must be updated frequently, without paying sales tax.

The state also offers all the free cold weather a data center could ask for, which means companies spend less to keep their servers cool.

“We’re very competitive with other states in our package,” said Robert Jensen, chief executive officer of the Wyoming Business Council.

Jensen said the domino that set off Wyoming’s recent string of data center recruiting victories was a supercomputer. In 2010, the National Center for Atmospheric Research broke ground in Cheyenne on a facility for Yellowstone, one of the world’s fastest computers.

The center selected Wyoming for many of the same reasons data centers are thriving here.

The move got the industry’s attention. In 2011, Ptolemy in Sheridan and Green House in Cheyenne announced they were moving into new data centers. In 2012, Microsoft said it planned to start building a new data center in Cheyenne.

“When people think Wyoming, we don’t want them to think of Yellowstone (National Park) or the Tetons. We want them to think data centers,” Moberly said.

Wyoming’s rugged beauty and wealth of outdoor activities — fetching your pole from downtown and fishing a blue-ribbon trout river just a few blocks away, for example — are just perks.


Information from: Casper (Wyo.) Star-Tribune, https://www.trib.com



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