By the BF Staff
From the July/August 2018 Issue
After an 18-month delay, Microsoft has begun work to complete a promised expansion of its data center operations west of Cheyenne, according to a report in the Wyoming Tribune Eagle.
The Redmond, WA-based technology giant originally announced the expansion at a 2015 news conference with Wyoming Gov. Matt Mead, where officials said the company planned to spend more than $200 million and double the 25 permanent jobs at the center within one to two years.
But Cheyenne LEADS CEO Randy Bruns said the company delayed physical expansion after upgrades made existing servers more efficient, pushing back the need for more. That development led the company to review its data center strategy and put all projects on hold, Bruns said.
But now, expansion work is back on. Black Hills Energy began preparing for a new center in mid-summer, Bruns said, and Microsoft started with preparatory and foundation work in the fall.
“Now they’re well under construction,” he said. “And it will increase as the weather improves.”
Cheyenne LEADS, which manages the North Range Business Park where Microsoft’s data center sits, is also working on water and sewer infrastructure for the site, Bruns said.
Bruns also had good news on the hiring and investment front.
In 2015, the expansion was expected to bring the company’s total investment in the data center to $750 million and employment to 50 full-time jobs. But Bruns said Microsoft was “already well beyond what they promised,” adding that he anticipated more jobs would accompany the growth.
The function of Microsoft’s data centers here and around the world is to host data for the company’s cloud services like search engine Bing, video chat application Skype and online gaming platform Xbox Live.
But the one here has also played a key role in Microsoft’s drive to use more clean energy in data operations.
In 2016, the company inked a deal that made the Cheyenne facility fully wind-powered. And instead of using diesel fuel to power its backup generators, as is common practice in most data centers, the company uses cheaper and more efficient natural gas here.
Rob Godby, an associate professor of economics at the University of Wyoming, said Microsoft’s investments have also been a major victory for the state’s economy as leaders work to diversify it beyond the dominant commodities industry.
It can be difficult for Wyoming to attract high-tech opportunities that require a large, skilled workforce over more populous areas down the Front Range and in the Salt Lake Valley, he said.
But Wyoming provides a perfect environment for data centers: Its cold winters reduce the cost of cooling servers, and the remoteness and low population density helps with security.
The state’s cheap energy also helps with power-hungry servers. And that compatibility gives Wyoming a foothold in the booming information economy that’s only going to keep growing, Godby said.
TUNGSTEN PRODUCER EXPANDS
A Wyoming tungsten manufacturer recently held a groundbreaking on its second expansion, just months after the company officially opened for business in Laramie.
About 250 local officials, media and eager residents attended Tungsten Heavy Powder and Parts’ Nov. 30 open house to tour the facilities, see the site of the anticipated 9,000 square-foot expansion and learn about the periodic element and its high-tech uses.
The San Diego, CA-based firm began looking to relocate some of its Chinese manufacturing operations back to U.S. soil in 2014. The Wyoming Business Council, the state’s economic development agency, reacted quickly by sending representatives to California to meet with owner and founder Joe Sery.
“Wyoming came very, very quickly to the table, discussed our project with us, offered us great facilities. Just the whole approach by the state was very positive,” Sery said. “We were given choices and flexibility. We felt at home right from the word go, and Laramie stood way above any other city that made us an offer.”
The Business Council provided $2.9 million to the city of Laramie to build a 20,000 square-foot facility, which Tungsten Parts Wyoming, a subsidiary of Tungsten Heavy Powder and Parts, now leases.
Advanced CNC machines, presses, furnaces and grinders have already packed the existing space. Tungsten Parts Wyoming responded by purchasing an additional 15,000 square-foot facility earlier this year.
The company promised to create 25 jobs in three years, but Sery has already hired 32 workers. Tungsten is a heavy metal that boasts the highest melting point and highest tensile strength of any metal.
Tungsten Parts Wyoming takes that fine, sand-like powder and runs it through high-tech machines capable of pressing and shaping the materials into balls, cubes and other shapes. The final products include penetrators, bucking bars, alloys and more.
“The products that we make are genuinely one of a kind,” Sery said. “No other facility in the world makes products like we do.”
Tungsten Parts Wyoming has exclusive manufacturing licenses with internationally recognized companies.
In all, tens of millions of dollars in tungsten products are now being made in Laramie, WY instead of China.
Advanced industries like Tungsten Parts Wyoming belongs to are vital to the state’s economic future. These industries have led the post-recession employment recovery, according to the Brookings Institution, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization focused on policy.
In Wyoming, advanced industries employ 17,690 workers, or 5.7 percent of the workforce. Those workers are paid nearly double the average salary in the state and the goods they produce account for $8.2 billion of Wyoming’s gross domestic product.
“The Business Council’s long-term strategy is focused on increasing Wyoming’s share of jobs in the advanced industries, and recruiting Tungsten Parts Wyoming to Laramie was an important step in that direction,” said Shawn Reese, chief executive officer of the Business Council.