They’ve competed for jobs, attention and even baseball stadiums. But especially for jobs. Greensboro and Guilford County seethed when Winston-Salem and Forsyth County outbid them by about $25 million to land Dell Inc.’s computer plant, then watched as the Round Rock, Texas-based company announced plans to shutter the place. Though Winston and Forsyth got their money back, the episode showed what recruiters don’t like to admit: Intraregional competition in the Triad is alive and well. Both cities bid this year for a Caterpillar Corp. factory, with Winston-Salem still under consideration.
The rivalry between the region’s two largest cities could be entering the digital age, particularly as their economic developers step up recruitment of data centers — behemoth buildings filled with rows of computer servers. Greensboro recently landed a $600 million one from New York-based American Express Co. that will employ about 50 initially but could add about 100 jobs — without offering incentives. But both can point to support from site-selection experts.
The Boyd Co., a consultancy based in Princeton, N.J., published a study that concluded Winston-Salem has the nation’s fourth-lowest cost for operating data centers, while Ronald Bowman Jr., executive vice president of New York-based consultant Tishman Technologies Corp., says North Carolina in general and Greensboro in particular rank second among the world’s best sites for data centers. Boyd and Bowman agree that both places fill the basic requirements: cheap and reliable electricity, little threat of disruption from the weather, distance from likely terrorism targets, a good fiber-optic network and an educated workforce.
Recruiters for both cities say they’re pursuing data centers, but neither says it works against the other. “We even work projects together from time to time,” says Dan Lynch, president of the Greensboro Economic Development Alliance. His counterpart in the Twin City, Bob Leak of Winston-Salem Business Inc., says, “I don’t differentiate Winston-Salem from the rest of the region. I differentiate it against Richmond, Va., Washington, Atlanta and Jacksonville, Fla.” In fact, he admits, his city has roughly the same assets as Greensboro.
They have a point. John Boyd Jr., a principal at The Boyd Co., included Greensboro and High Point in his information about Winston-Salem. The real competition for data centers lies in the Midwest — particularly in states that have no corporate income taxes or sales taxes, he says. But Bowman believes Greensboro is the stronger candidate. “It has better fiber and power distribution.” It also has an intangible, courtesy of his global ranking. “There’s a certain amount of swagger that comes to a city once it gains attention. That gives the user a lot of confidence.”
But it might want to check that swagger at the door. Published reports in July said Microsoft Corp. was considering the region for a data-storage center that would cost at least $120 million — and possibly “billions.” Its location: Mebane, in Alamance County. Could a new rivalry be brewing?