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TCD starts ‘Big Idea Thursday,’ networking event to share potential big ideas

July 29, 2018

SCOTTSBLUFF — Workable solutions often come from informal meetings of colleagues discussing the next potential big idea.

That’s what Big Idea Thursday is about. Each month, Twin Cities Development hosts a meeting to share ideas and create input on the best ways to meet the challenges of a regional economy in an ever-changing marketplace.

On July 26, Lincoln-based data center consultant David Bartholomai visited via Skype with the group to share ideas for regional economic development.

One idea that might have potential is a smaller-scale data center to serve the entire region. Called edge data centers, they work as a decentralized extension of larger systems. But to be efficient, the area population would need to be much larger, creating the demand for data services such as high-speed internet and streaming video.

A data center is a facility that houses computer systems and related components such as servers, telecommunications and storage systems.

Data centers include redundant backup power and data communications connections, as well as environmental controls and security devices.

Large data centers, usually located near major metropolitan areas, are industrial scale operations that can use as much electricity as small towns. Most of them are co-locations, serving the data needs of a number of companies.

“Companies just aren’t building their own new data centers today,” Bartholomai said. “The investment into equipment and operation just doesn’t work well on a small scale.”

Bartholomai said while the Panhandle wouldn’t be feasible for a larger data center, it could serve as a large internet provider.

“I think the idea of having an edge data center is a good one,” said Matt Larsen, Vistabeam CEO. “What we have to do is figure out how to grow customers locally. There’s a lot of mistrust out there from businesses that don’t like storing their data a long distance from here.”

He said if there was one spot locally where businesses could tie together to exchange data traffic, it would greatly reduce the amount of traffic going outside the area.

“I think an edge data center is more of a follower for economic development than a starter,” Bartholomai said. “As you grow your population, you can make a better case for the economics of building more data capacity for local co-location.”

He said before pursuing a data center, the area should focus on bringing in more people to work more jobs. Because agriculture drives so much of the economy, value-added processing opportunities would be a strong draw for the area.

“It’s also important to grow your population because of legislative representation,” Bartholomai said. “Redistricting could lead to a situation where Lincoln and Omaha have a supermajority of legislative seats.”

But Larsen had a different idea that, perhaps, the best way to grow the population is organically.

“We should be more resilient and less dependent on input from outside our own area,” he said. “I think that has more possibility for long-term, sustainable economic growth than trying to bring in outside companies that don’t have local roots.”

Bartholomai said that bringing in new workers for value added agriculture would benefit the entire area. Farmers would have a steadier price without worrying about tariffs. Plus they’d have ready customers for their products.

Charlie Knapper, who will be a new Scotts Bluff County commissioner in January, said he knows several people who live in the area and also telecommute to jobs with companies based in other states.

“As the workforce becomes more knowledge-based than task-based, I think we can market the area to people who want to live in rural areas,” he said. “Scottsbluff is a place where people would want to come.”

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