Global tech company facilitates community growth and connections in rural WNCSep 19, 2023 02:10PM ● By Randee Brown
A million-and-a-half square foot facility, Meta’s Forest City Data Center in Rutherford County employs 275 people to help provide infrastructure to apps and keep them and the facility running smoothly, according to Community Development Regional Manager Tara Tenorio.
Meta, formerly known as Facebook, chose Forest City as a data center location for several reasons, according to Tenorio. “There is good access to renewable energy, availability of good infrastructure, and great community partners,” she said. “Rutherford County is very collaborative and forward-thinking, and it’s a great environment for both residents and visitors.”
Tenorio said Meta keeps the community top of mind, and they like to be active contributors in community development and its long-term vitality. With rich relationships in the area for more than 13 years, they are at a really interesting moment in leadership with the government. The presence of the data center, according to Tenorio, changed the conversation toward collaborative work and the growth of the county as a whole, and she said that is really special.
The data center’s employees work in a variety of aspects, according to Tenorio. In addition to operating the data servers, staff also work in managing storage, groundskeeping, employee engagement, and culinary support positions. “It takes a village to run a data center,” she said.
More than employing a large number of local staff, the Forest City Data Center engages with the community in a variety of ways from litter cleanups to leveraging skill sets to be able to encourage career exploration in students at Isothermal Community College. Tenorio said employees are out in the community serving as volunteers at least monthly, and the employee engagement team is dedicated to finding more opportunities to do that.
Small businesses are a huge part of the Facebook and Instagram platforms, and Meta often partners with the Rutherford County Chamber to bring in programming to discuss how local businesses and nonprofits can leverage the platforms for fundraising to support their mission. She said this is another way Meta helps build the capacity to use the apps in ways that are helping the community to grow and thrive.
There is a grants program offered by Meta and evaluated by the Forest City Data Center’s Grants Review Committee who are involved with the community and have insight into what would be the most impactful. This committee selects a variety of projects for nonprofits and education partners on an annual basis, and Meta works to make these opportunities really well-known.
Community Action Grants are additional offerings that happen every fall and cover three impact areas — STEM education, technology for the youth community benefit, and creating connections both online and off. “What’s wonderful about these grants is that people look at those categories and apply them in such different ways,” Tenorio said. “The opportunity there is to really be able to meet the community where they are and to be able to support the needs that they have and also be able to dream big.”
The Forest City Data Center serves a five-county region including Rutherford, Cleveland, Henderson, Polk, and McDowell Counties. She said there are so many programs in these areas during the summer that keep kids learning and growing throughout the non-school months, and the demand for those continues to grow year over year within Meta’s grants.
Meta also supports other community events, opportunities, and initiatives through its grant program, according to Tenorio. Some of those include the Thermal Belt Rail Trail and Spindale’s new skate park, and they all speak to the creativity of the community and the desire to bring more resources to both residents and tourists.
The data center also has a workforce development component that works with school districts to create conversation and awareness of available careers at the Forest City facility. “Hiring locally is a really important aspect of what we do,” Tenorio said. “It’s a critical component in each of Meta’s data centers to work with the local community to fill those roles with people who have built that community from the ground up.”
Tenorio said the data center is unique in that it offers so many pathways. Someone can start in one field and explore other options. They encourage employees to bring their whole self to the table.
“Working closely with partners across different teams naturally creates conversations and opportunities for growth or for change,” Tenorio said. “There are neat pathways which allow you to come in at that entry-level and continue to grow, and that helps to boost the community as a whole.”