Data Center Project is the Key to Creating a Bright Future for Eagle Mountain
By Theresa Foxley, president and CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Utah (EDCUtah)
Over the past decade, Eagle Mountain has developed and began executing on a master plan of leveraging data centers to build its tax base and economic foundation. In the past year, city officials have worked with the Governor’s Office of Economic Development, members of the state legislature, the Economic Development Corporation of Utah and Utah County officials on a specific proposal from a major technology company that wants to put a data center in Eagle Mountain. The elected officials of Eagle Mountain, taking the whole picture into consideration and with more than a decade of study, want to bring this data center to their community.
As important voting on the project grows near, more people are engaged in the process and sharing opinions to urge their representatives in specific directions. Some of the interest is driven by the fact that the entity behind the proposal has not been disclosed. Because processes like these are inherently competitive, the company has asked all parties to keep its name out of the discussion. To be clear, it is only the company’s name that is unknown at this time. All of the other pertinent details of the deal, from the construction, to the infrastructure upgrades to the offered tax benefits are established. In other words, everything about this project that representatives and officials need in order to make an informed decision is known.
In recent conversations some residents and officials are trending toward a negative view with only a passing understanding of the project. Although resident and official involvement is a vital part of any democratic process, and we have no wish to interfere with that critical exchange of thoughts, we do want to set the record straight in three key areas:
The deal offers significant positive financial impact with a minimum of strain on the system
Eagle Mountain City officials had many elements to balance as they studied the various industries the city could potentially attract to its high-growth area. As a young, tech-savvy community, they wanted to encourage industries that would experience future growth. But without a direct connection to freeways, they also knew they would not be competitive for very employee-heavy options. City officials ultimately determined that data centers were ideal for Eagle Mountain City's needs. A third-party study commissioned by the city confirmed their findings.
Project Steeplechase's data center is expected to employ 30-50 people full time, with potential for more contract workers. It is a very modest increase in employee headcount that will not significantly impact local resources. Even with proposed tax incentives, Project Steeplechase will provide a net tax base of over $800,000 annually to entities like Eagle Mountain City -- including over $500,000 to Alpine School District -- with minimal increases to housing or student burdens. As it stands now, the 490 acre parcel proposed for Project Steeplechase contributes just $66 in annual taxes. With this development, the taxing entities would see a 1200 percent increase in revenue without any significant strain on local services like schools, fire and police!
The project provides needed infrastructure for the area
Eagle Mountain City and the entire Cedar Valley need infrastructure to grow their tax base and employment prospects. Opportunity certainly abounds, as evidenced by Project Steeplechase's interest, but in order to bring in companies that can positively impact the tax base, hundreds of millions of dollars in development must first take place in the form of power, water, sewer and communications lines to the area.
Residents who carefully watch Utah's tax offerings perform an important service, but protesting certain incentives can miss the bigger picture and lead to greater tax burdens for citizens down the road. Eagle Mountain City is not offering tax incentives just for the prestige of bringing a big-name company to Cedar Valley. Project Steeplechase will invest hundreds of millions of dollars in upgrading the local infrastructure, which will then be turned over to the city and the public utilities. Otherwise, the burden for those necessary upgrades will fall upon the citizens or never be built.
The deal will help shape Eagle Mountain’s growth
One concern raised by some residents and officials is that Project Steeplechase will spur additional economic development, which will eventually overwhelm the resources and infrastructure of Eagle Mountain City. To be clear, everyone on all sides of this issue wants stable, sustainable growth and financial benefit for the area. But Eagle Mountain City is growing already, and will continue to do so. The problem for residents is that they are the only current source of a tax base, and there is no economic center, with no feasible way to pay for that growth. The citizens are shouldering the burden for all of the taxes to run the city.
Bringing in Project Steeplechase and empowering Eagle Mountain City to continue executing on their master plan will assure that engaged, informed people are directing that growth. Eagle Mountain City chose data centers because they have a low load on services but contribute significantly to the tax base. As other companies are attracted to the area by Project Steeplechase and the profile growth of Utah County, having the infrastructure already in place will give Eagle Mountain City much greater leverage in crucial negotiations.
Many concerned citizens and public officials are asking why Eagle Mountain City isn’t inviting companies that don’t require tax breaks to occupy its valuable land. The concept sounds good -- all benefit to the local taxing entities, giving nothing in exchange to the company -- but is unrealistic. It presupposes that there is a long list of high-profile corporations that are willing to shell out hundreds of millions of dollars for public infrastructure upgrades with no incentives at all. Without a deal that benefits both sides, the parcel in Eagle Mountain City will continue to contribute just $66 per year to the tax base.
Overall, Project Steeplechase is perhaps one of the most deliberate and well researched economic development opportunities the state has seen in recent years. We applaud Eagle Mountain officials for having the vision to attract opportunities that will provide meaningful benefit to its residents and the entire state.