SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — The race between a small town on the Rio Grande in New Mexico and a Salt Lake City suburb to entice a new Facebook data center with millions of dollars in tax breaks and subsidies is raising questions about public investments in a booming cloud-computing economy that typically brings few local jobs.
In West Jordan, Utah, an initial plan to offer some $240 million in tax breaks over two decades fell apart after several local leaders said the lure was too rich. Negotiations have since restarted.
In New Mexico, The Los Lunas Village Council agreed to give up all property taxes for 30 years in exchange for annual payments that start at $50,000 and top out at nearly a half-million dollars.
The village has yet to provide a tally of the revenues it would forgo under a complex economic development agreement that also involves tax breaks on billions of dollars in computer equipment over time.
Officials in West Jordan say they can hardly compete with the generous offer from the town of 15,000 people in New Mexico.
Dave Swenson, an economist at Iowa State University, says West Jordan’s initial offer was greater than the total combined tax breaks offered for seven other data centers in Iowa.
“This is nothing but a giveaway,” Swenson said.
Los Lunas officials foresee a possible $1.8 billion construction project that provides as many as 300 direct temporary jobs, and just 50 permanent jobs thereafter — a fraction of the steady employment at the local Walmart distribution center.
Still, supporters of such deals see an opportunity to attract a hot company that would bring tax revenue despite the incentives and could attract other high-tech companies.
“If you’re in the market for a new car and this dealer offers a rebate for the same car and this dealer doesn’t, where are you going to buy the car?” said Vale Hale, executive director of the Utah Governor’s Office of Economic Development.
Facebook’s latest expansion comes as the social media giant looks to beef up its video presence, said John Harrington, a data center expert with Verify Research Associates. Video is increasingly the way to attract advertisers and eyeballs, but it also requires more space.
Data centers are typically large facilities filled with rows of hard-drives and servers that store and process vast amounts of information. They’re increasingly essential to the global economy, but on the ground they function more like storage facilities that need few people to keep them running.
While the Facebook plan has been contentious in Utah, it’s enjoyed broad political support in New Mexico, where the Los Lunas Village Council voted to sweeten the offer last week.
New Mexico officials appear eager to please businesses willing to set up shop in a state hit hard by a downturn in the oil and natural gas sectors, and where computer chip maker Intel has been steadily unwinding a major manufacturing plant that was an early beneficiary of similar property tax breaks using industrial revenue bonds.
There’s been some question about whether the estimated 50 jobs are worth the trouble, but state Rep. Alonzo Baldonado, R-Los Lunas, anticipates that construction will spill over into other parts of the economy. Among other infrastructure upgrades, three industrial-scale solar power plants would be built to offset electricity consumed by the data center.
The plants would be paid for through a power purchase agreement with Facebook.
“You don’t know until it’s on the ground when it comes to seeing the economic benefits,” said Baldonado, a staunch supporter of the data center project. “You have to take risks sometimes.”
The once-struggling timber town of Prineville, Oregon, for example, is reinventing itself as a digital hub since attracting Facebook’s first wholly owned data center with the help of a 15-year abatement on property taxes.
But in Utah’s relatively healthy economy, critics of the Facebook deal argue the land eyed by the social media giant could be developed by another outfit that would pay more in school-funding taxes and create more jobs.
They also worry that new companies coming to the state will expect similar treatment.
SECAUCUS, N.J. (AP) — A New Jersey Transit police officer is being hailed as a hero for pulling a man from the tracks and out of the way of an oncoming train last week.
NJ Transit said in a statement that Officer Victor Ortiz responded heroically when he pulled the man from the tracks at Secaucus Junction on Friday morning, seconds before the arrival of a train.
“Officer Ortiz’s selfless and heroic actions demonstrated a level of bravery and a true sense of compassion and purpose that often goes unrecognized but is ever present in our law enforcement community,” the agency said.
Ortiz told The Record newspaper he received a report of a disorderly passenger about to exit a train.
The man repeatedly asked why police were called. Ortiz said he asked the man to sit down while he spoke to the conductor, but that he walked down the platform and jumped onto the tracks, saying he didn’t want to go to jail.
Ortiz said he checked to see that there were no oncoming trains before following the man, who ran to another set of tracks.
“At that point he’s like, ‘I just want to die, I just want to die,'” Ortiz told WCBS-TV. “He pretty much went down on his knees and down on his arms. At that point I said, ‘You’re not going to die, you’re not going to die.'”
Ortiz struggled with the man and said he called central communications to stop the oncoming train, but its horn blew.
“I knew at that point the train’s not going to stop in time,” Ortiz said.
Video showed Ortiz eventually overpowering and dragging the man to safety moments before a train pulls into the station.
WASHINGTON (AP) — There will be 600,000 commercial drone aircraft operating in the U.S. within the year as the result of new safety rules that opened the skies to them on Monday, according to a Federal Aviation Administration estimate.
The rules governing the operation of small commercial drones were designed to protect safety without stifling innovation, FAA Administrator Michael Huerta told a news conference.
Commercial operators initially complained that the new rules would be too rigid. The agency responded by creating a system to grant exemptions to some of the rules for companies that show they can operate safely, Huerta said.
On the first day the rules were in effect the FAA had already granted 76 exemptions, most of them to companies that want to fly drones at night, Huerta said.
“With these rules, we have created an environment in which emerging technology can be rapidly introduced while protecting the safety of the world’s busiest, most complex airspace,” he said.
Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said people are “captivated by the limitless possibilities unmanned aircraft offer.” The few thousand commercial drones that had been granted waivers to operate before Monday have been used to monitor crops, inspect bridges and transmission lines, assist firefighters, film movies, and create real estate and wedding videos, among dozens of other uses.
In general, the new rules apply to drones weighing 55 pounds or less, and require commercial operators to:
—Keep the drone within sight at all times.
—Keep drones from flying over people not involved in their operation.
—Limit drone operations to the hours from a half-hour before sunrise to a half-hour after sunset.
—Limit speed to no more than 100 mph.
—Fly no higher than 400 feet.
Drone operators must also pass a test of their aeronautical knowledge administered by the FAA. More than 3,000 people had registered with the FAA to take the test as of Monday.
The Air Line Pilots Association complained that the new regulations are “missing a key component” because there’s no requirement that drone operators first have an FAA pilot license to fly a plane. The FAA considered requiring drone operators to have manned aircraft pilot licenses, but relented when the drone industry complained that the time and expense involved in obtaining a license, including considerable time practicing flying a plane, would be prohibitive.
Follow Joan Lowy at http://twitter.com/AP—Joan—Lowy . Her work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/joan-lowy
NEW YORK (AP) — Beyonce and Rihanna earned more than awards during Sunday night’s MTV Music Video Awards.
Twitter says the two singers got the most social media buzz during the telecast. They were followed by Kanye West, who gave a typically rambling speech that touched on everything from gun violence in Chicago to his aspiration to become a mogul in the mold of Steve Jobs or Walt Disney.
Drake also was a topic of conversation. The rapper gave a touching tribute and kissed Rihanna while presenting her with MTV’s Video Vanguard Award.
Girl group Fifth Harmony, which won a pair of VMAs, rounds out Twitter’s top five tweeted topics of the show.
PARIS (AP) — A French prosecutor has opened an investigation into suspected racial discrimination after two Muslim women said they were ordered out of a restaurant amid tension over France’s burkinis controversy.
The prosecutor in the Paris suburb of Bobigny says Monday that his case concerns a smartphone video produced by one of the women in Le Cenacle, a restaurant in nearby Tremblay-en-France. French media have widely broadcast the video.
In Saturday’s recording, the owner can be heard blaming all Muslims for recent attacks and saying: “I don’t want people like you in my place. … Get out.”
France’s minister for women’s affairs, Laurence Rossignol, denounced the restaurant owner’s behavior and called for him to face criminal sanctions.
The owner issued an apology Sunday night to all Muslims on BFM television.
TEHRAN, Iran (AP) — Iran has deployed a Russian-made S-300 air defense system around its underground Fordo nuclear facility, state TV reported.
Video footage posted late Sunday on state TV’s website showed trucks arriving at the site and missile launchers being aimed skyward. It did not say whether the system was fully operational.
Gen. Farzad Esmaili, Iran’s head of air defense, declined to comment on the report in an interview with another website affiliated with state news. “Maybe if you go to Fordo now, the system is not there,” he was quoted as saying Monday. He added that the S-300 is a mobile system that should be relocated often.
Russia began delivering the S-300 system to Iran earlier this year under a contract signed in 2007. The delivery had been held up by international sanctions over Iran’s nuclear program, which were lifted this year under an agreement with world powers.
The Fordo site, built at a depth of 90 meters (300 feet) below a mountain some 100 kilometers (60 miles) south of the capital, Tehran, was revealed by Western nations in 2009.
Critics of Iran’s nuclear program pointed to Fordo as further proof of Tehran’s intention to secretly develop nuclear weapons. Iran insists it has never sought nuclear arms, and says the security around the site is intended to protect it from U.S. or Israeli airstrikes.
Iran halted nuclear enrichment at Fordo under the nuclear agreement and says the facility is now being used for research and the production of medical isotopes.
In separate comments on Sunday, Esmaili insisted there had been no change in how Iran defends its nuclear facilities, adding that “since they are national achievements of Iran, they must be vigorously protected.”
“We carry out defense exercises in non-nuclear facilities once a month but we do them several times a month in our nuclear facilities,” he added.
On Monday Iran inaugurated a new radar system it says is capable of detecting radar-evading aircraft like the U.S.-made U-2, RQ-4 and MQ-1, state TV reported. It said the Nazir system is located in a remote area and is capable of detecting ballistic and cruise missiles, as well as drones flying at an altitude of over 3,000 meters (9,800 feet).