Effective immediately, all negotiations between the company known as Discus and the City of West Jordan are hereby terminated. Any and all incentives and inducements preliminarily offered the company to locate in West Jordan are hereby rescinded in whole without prejudice.
Well, we had nary a day to consider both sides of the Facebook Data Center Debate before West Jordan City unfriended Project Discus. Ugh. I know. I’m so sorry. I hate myself for writing that.
“Effective immediately, all negotiations between the company known as Discus and the City of West Jordan are hereby terminated. Any and all incentives and inducements preliminarily offered the company to locate in West Jordan are hereby rescinded in whole without prejudice,” reads a City of West Jordan press release released Tuesday afternoon. City Manager Mark Palesh, author of the press release, makes it clear that he believes Utah should have accepted Project Discus’ friend request. “The process to recruit top businesses to our state — and other states across the country — includes incentives. If you want to attract an all-star player, you have to offer a competitive package,” Palesh writes.
All this Project Discus drama has caused the County Council and West Jordan to change their relationship status to It’s Complicated. “Unfortunately, the long courtship of this company has had a negative impact on the working relationships of the several state and local entities involved, which must be repaired for the good of all citizens of Utah,” the press release states. While West Jordan City Council and the Jordan School District voiced their support, Salt Lake County Mayor Ben McAdams has been a vocal opponent of Project Discus. The Salt Lake Tribune quotes McAdams as saying, “I think the incentive that was offered was too rich by an order of magnitude and four other cities in the county looked at it and walked away long before this incentives was ever reached. It needs to pass a cost-benefit analysis and this one wasn’t even close in my book.”
West Jordan officials decided to stay off social media for a while after the State School Board voted to cap the tax incentives at $100 million and approve only the first phase of Project Discus. “It’s unfortunate. (West Jordan) could have tried to continue negotiations,” State School Board member Stan Lockhart says. “We actually approved what we were requested to approve. We just decided to do it in phases. We didn’t kill this deal.” But Palesh disagrees. In a quote found in The Deseret News, he says, “[The State School Board] knew no multibillion dollar company was going to negotiate part of the deal and then hope that they’d fall under the good graces of the (Salt Lake) County mayor and council at a later date. They already know how they’ve treated them, so why would they ever do that?”
Lockhart agrees that we’ve been the worst kind of friends to Facebook. The kind that poke for no reason whatsoever. The kind that post things like, “Ran 15 miles, feeling great!” The kind that comment on articles others post without actually reading them. Lockhart says that he’s embarrassed by the way Facebook has been treated. He says that when he met with Facebook representatives, “All I could do was apologize. We’ve managed to trip over ourselves so many times and had so much bad publicity, now they’re wondering if they really want to come. It’s not so much this deal, but it is do we have our act together as a state?” Palesh pins much of this bad publicity on McAdams, saying, “We’ve been trying to negotiate for six months and trying to negate all the damage that the county mayor has done. Discus has a corporate image to uphold, and so why would they go to a state that has been pretty antagonistic toward them?” McAdams, however, says he felt the public needed to know the details of Project Discus. The Salt Lake Tribune quotes him as saying, “This was the largest tax incentive ever offered in Utah history and the skids were greased, and I felt it was important that the public have a chance to look at it. It was a bad deal that would set a precedent that would harm our state in the future.” McAdams says that the deal would have been especially bad for Utah schools. “I thought this was a bad deal for the kids of the Jordan School District and taxpayers in West Jordan and Salt Lake County,” he says. “This was something we needed to walk away from.” Billy Hesterman, vice president of the Utah Taxpayers Association, agrees with McAdams, saying, “This was definitely a win for Utah’s schoolchildren today. This was a deal that was going to give away so much in a state where schools are clearly underfunded.”
So now it’s looking like the Data Center will change its profile to read Lives in Los Lunas, New Mexico. New Mexico has approved $30 billion in revenue bonds for Facebook and offered a 100 percent property tax rebate over 30 years. So I guess they really want that data center, and honestly, I feel like they deserve it. It can’t be easy being the state best known for fictional blue meth. Also their unemployment rate is pretty bad, so they’re probably more eager to put their eggs in the “Facebook will move more operations here and bring more jobs” basket. “New Mexico rolled out the red carpet,” Palesh says. “Every entity they have offered an incentive we couldn’t even begin to meet. Our state was the antithesis of that.” In the press release Palesh writes, “As the State of New Mexico has opened its doors, from the Governor on down to its varied state and local agencies, to welcome this great company, we wish them well.”
The Governer’s Office of Economic Development, who were instrumental in getting Project Discus as far as it did, released a statement from Executive Director Val Hale. Hale states, “After a robust debate and public discussion, ultimately local officials could not agree to the terms of a potential deal. Our work on these projects has always been as a facilitator for local government leaders. The Governor’s Office of Economic Development will continue working to help local businesses expand and succeed in our state.”
It’s going to be weird when New Mexico starts posting photos of their happy new life with the data center. We Utahns will scroll and wonder if maybe we made the wrong choice. Nothing makes a breakup worse than seeing evidence of your ex’s new relationship on social media when you just happen to accidentally be checking their profile. Not that I know. Hopefully in the end we’ll have no hard feelings, something Palesh already strives for in the final line of his press release that reads, “It has been a pleasure working with representatives of Project Discus, and we would do so again, should their plans include the City of West Jordan and the State of Utah.”
Photo Cred: Scott G. Winterton, Deseret News