By Peter H. Milliken
and Grace Wyler
A proposal to build a $350 million data center to accompany development of an Indian gambling casino in North Jackson was met with some skepticism from several familiar with the industry.
Data One Corp., based in Knoxville, Tenn., has agreed to build a high-tech data center in the Youngstown area if plans for an Indian casino resort come to fruition, former congressman James A. Traficant Jr. told Mahoning County commissioners Thursday.
The center would have 35 initial positions and hire more than 300 employees within five years, Traficant said in a statement.
Data centers, however, typically do not create many jobs, said Rich Miller, editor of Data Center Knowledge, a news website that follows the industry.
“The thing about data centers as economic-development projects is that they tend to have a lot of investment and not a lot of jobs,” Miller said. “Usually a data center will have only a small number of employees.”
A large data center such as the one Traficant proposes would have trouble succeeding in the Mahoning Valley, said David Wilkeson, chief operating officer of DRS, a local data center.
“You don’t build a $350 million data center for all comers,” Wilkeson said. “Multi-tenant data centers are not like that, and certainly not in our part of the country.”
DRS, which has two data centers in Youngstown and is building a third in Columbus, has spent about $25 million on each project, Wilkeson said. The company has about 12 data center employees total, he said.
Wilkeson also questioned the company’s need to have fresh water near the data center. The site “will need to have fresh, running water ... so equipment can be submerged to help in cooling,” according to Traficant’s statement.
“That is not normal,” Wilkeson said. “There is a type of cooling that is water-based, but you wouldn’t run the water through the system.”
Data One owns two data centers in the Knoxville area, which have 1,750 square feet and 39,200 square feet, respectively, according to the company’s website. No information was available on any water-related cooling systems.
Owner Kenn Davin did not return calls for comment.
The Youngstown data center project “is contingent on the approval and development of the hotel/casino project,” Davin said in the statement. Davin, a member of the United Eastern Lenape tribe in Tennessee, said he agreed to locate the project in Youngstown “to help my sister tribe, the Munsee.”
The Munsee Delaware Indian Nation USA, based in Cambridge, Ohio, is one of the tribes involved in the North Jackson casino project. The Munsee and the United Eastern Lenape, neither of which is federally recognized, both come from the Algonquin territory in the northeastern United States.
One Mahoning County commissioner is inclined to support the proposed Indian casino, data center and indoor theme park in North Jackson.
The other two commissioners, however, said they don’t want to rush to endorse it before they have all the facts.
“It sounds like we should support this project,” said Commissioner David N. Ludt, whose motion of support for the proposed project failed for lack of a second just before the commissioners adjourned.
“This would be a movement in a high-tech direction for this Valley,” Traficant Jr. said of the proposed $350 million data storage center.
The proposed casino complex, which Traficant said could create more than 1,000 jobs, would be built at Bailey Road and Mahoning Avenue. Traficant said he hopes ground can be broken next spring.
“Whatever political clout we have must be manifested at this period of time,” said Traficant, who is running as an independent candidate for Congress in the 17th District in the Nov. 2 general election.
“We have two weeks left now to impact on this governor,” Traficant said, referring to Gov. Ted Strickland, who is seeking re-election.
Anthony T. Traficanti, chairman of the county commissioners, said he needs to know more about the proposed project and would like to meet the investors and leaders of the Itana and Munsee Delaware Indian nations that would operate the casino.
“We’re not in the business to stand in the way of jobs. We, as a board, need more details on the proposal,” Traficanti said. “It’s better to take your time and look at something for the long term to make it a better deal.”
Before the commissioners vote on the project, Commissioner John A. McNally IV told Traficant: “We should see these folks from the Indian tribes that you’re dealing with” and the proposed developer of the data-storage center, whom Traficant did not identify by name.
Traficant replied, “You can’t have the [U.S.] Department of the Interior’s support without the condition of having local support.” The Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs support is necessary for the casino project to proceed, Traficant added.
“I want your vote. I want you to stand up now. I’m not asking you to spend a dime here. Don’t give all these politicians an opportunity to wait till the election’s over and to screw up once again,” Traficant told the commissioners.