Friend request denied: ‘Religious Freedom’ bill support helped push $750M Facebook center away from Fayette

An artist’s rendering shows the 970,000 square foot first phase of the Facebook Data Center to be built in Newton County. Fayette County had been the favorite to get the project, but the passing of a resolution in support of the controversial ‘Religious Freedom’ bill was cited as a factor in Facebook looking elsewhere.

While several speakers at Thursday’s County Board of Commissioners warned of potential negative consequences from continuing to support the controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), it was confirmed that it already played a part in Fayette County losing out on a massive project. As part of the discussion, Fayette was revealed to be the favorite at one time for a new Facebook data center, but the passing of a resolution in support of RFRA in January of this year was confirmed to have been part of the reason the project was awarded to Newton County instead.

Darryl Hicks, Board Chairman of the Fayette County Development Authority, warned the commissioners about potential consequences of supporting the bill he has foreseen as a member of a body charged with attracting new businesses, facilitating growth, and offsetting the tax base by luring new corporations to the county.

“One of the things that we have to be conscious of as we go around and try to convince a company to locate here in Fayette County is what is it that we’re doing as a county that may hinder that process,” he said. “Continue to understand that all the decisions you make, in particular this decision, have an impact that is wide and reaching, and if you’re okay with the consequences of it, then we’ll deal with the consequences of that as best as we can.”

The most telling remark regarding losing the project was that the resolution was a deciding factor in the loss. In getting feedback on why Fayette not chosen, the Development Authority was told the resolution was one reason.

“We were a major contender in a project last year, in fact, we were first on the list for that project last year, and then we lost that project to a neighboring county,” Hicks recounted. “In that one project that we lost back last year, there were three reasons why we did not get the project, and one of the reasons was because of the RFRA resolution that was passed by this body.”

He did not specify what company was behind the decision, but Commissioner Charles Rousseau filled in the blanks.

“Many of you may have not known that. We have been told that we did lose the (Facebook campus) because of this issue that was being deliberated several months ago,” he said. “It was a determining factor.”

Rousseau said that moving forward with the resolution could make the Development Authority’s job that much harder.

“They’ve got yet one more hurdle they’ve got to overcome in convincing people that this is a good place to do business.”

In March of this year, Governor Nathan Deal announced that Facebook would build a data center, its ninth in the country, in Newton County, about 45 miles east of Atlanta. Facebook is investing $750 million over the next five years on the massive project consisting of two buildings totalling about 970,000 square feet and powered by renewable energy. Atlanta Business Chronicle reported that the 416-acre project could bring an investment of $42 billion into the state.

Fully operational by 2020, the data center will bring more than 100 full-time jobs.

At the time of the announcement, Vice President of Data Center Strategy Rachel Peterson said, “Facebook is committed to creating positive impact at the local level — that means hiring, partnering, and investing locally.”

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About

Christopher Dunn has been the sports editor for Fayette Newspapers since 2011, in addition to running Fayette Game Day magazine. He is a graduate of Fayette County schools, as well as a graduate of Georgia State University with a degree in journalism. Follow him on twitter @fayettesports.


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