Don’t let Google be lonely

Google unveiled its new sign last week. The tasteful, illuminated logo on the Church Nancy OatesStreet side of 200 W. Franklin St. perhaps quelled fears that the town’s new sign ordinance would result in a wave of garishness overpowering our downtown’s charm.

Chapel Hill has been Google’s home for the past decade, but few people knew that, because the Chapel Hill office, and another in Durham, are part of the Google data center in Lenoir, N.C., a site Google likely chose because the land and talent are less expensive than in Silicon Valley. When Google needed tech-savvy people to implement graphics for Chrome, the global corporation understood it might be difficult and time-consuming to recruit top talent to a bucolic yet sleepy town in the North Carolina mountains. A better strategy would be to look for a Software-as-a-Service start-up and buy it outright.

In 2005, Google found and acquired Skia in Chapel Hill’s Southern Village, started by UNC alum Mike Reed a year early. In 2014, the Google Skia division left Southern Village and took over a floor in the 200 W. Franklin St. building.

Reed could be the poster boy for why we need to make room for start-ups in Chapel Hill. Skia is the fourth tech company he has started and sold to global corporations. His Google office on West Franklin employs about 20 people, all of whom would rather work in Chapel Hill than Silicon Valley. (Though apparently not live in town. My micro-survey of people I spoke with at the sign-unveiling reception revealed that only Reed lived in Chapel Hill. The other employees I queried live in Durham and commute in.)

The as-a-service industry is in the midst of explosive growth, especially the Infrastructure-as-a-Service line, which basically enables businesses to rent an IT department, complete with software, hosting platform and help desk. For a business just starting out, hiring an IaaS provider can be a cost-effective way to figure out what IT services the company needs before making a sizeable investment.

When any industry grows so quickly, consolidation follows. The Googles of the world shop for the Skias.

Chapel Hill has a better chance of keeping Google if the town becomes a tech hub. Our cost of living compares favorably to Silicon Valley, and our winters beat those of Kansas City, another tech hub. But the tech engineers need people to talk to. We can help by letting tech companies know we are open to their business. We might partner with UNC’s computer science department to host summits. We need open office space downtown, and we need an identifiable place to park.

We appreciate Google’s name glowing in our skyline. Next step is to recruit some high-tech peers so Chapel Hill will become a recognizable name in the tech world.
— Nancy Oates

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  1. Terri

     /  September 5, 2016

    The Renaissance Computing Center (UNC) hosts an entrepreneurship contest annually. Based on investigation I did a few years back, those who get funded typically go to Durham. Maybe Chapel Hill should be asking why? At nearly every one of the Obey Creek public meetings, I’ve requested open office space and collaboration with the several UNC entrepreneurship programs. I made the same request last year at the one on the VFW property (sounds like that developer may have actually listened and followed up).

    In last weeks post, Will, Del and others spoke out on the need for UNC to get involve in affordable housing. I hope they will agree this week that it’s long past time for the time to engage UNC on economic development.

  2. Plurimus

     /  September 5, 2016

    As far as SaaS goes, yes GOOG, AAPL, AMZN, FB, MSFT, T, VZ, CMCS, TWC, CSCO and many more are interested in acquiring talent and the speed to market an up and running concern gives them. This phenom is about to increase dramatically with the IoT.

    Chapel Hill should excel at attracting startups at the nexus of technology well as extending human capabilities through such things as augmented reality.

    Sitting at the intersection of two major interstates, Orange County should be an attractive location for a distribution center since WMT and AMZN seem to be about to go head to head in that area.

    As far as large data centers go, don’t feel too bad. The top two reasons ANY company chooses a site for a large data center are cheap and reliable power. Despite the solar roofs, commercial power is needed to smooth out and back up green power systems. The power demand is very high.

    Slightly down the consideration list form power is incentives. A Bloomberg report I read said that Lenoir gave GOOG +$1 Million in incentives for each of he ~200 jobs it created.

    A little further down the list is water. Many data centers enhance air conditioning with evaporative cooling. This commonly uses hundreds of thousands of gallons of water a day.

  3. Del Snow

     /  September 7, 2016

    Terri, Of course I fervently agree that UNC should be partnering with the Town on economic development. Try as we may, we are still a University Town with a capital T and as such the Town and UNC need to champion each other instead of just co-existing. CH needs UNC and UNC needs CH.

    As a matter of fact, the oft-touted 2020 Plan Town – Gown goal states:
    “Take full advantage of ideas and resources to create a thriving economy and incorporate and utilize the intellectual capital that the University and Town create”

    I’d like to see development focused on achieving THAT goal!

  4. Tibco is located just below Google and has occupied that corner much much longer. Question: does our economic development office know that?