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Google Should Buy Ford's Twin Cities Assembly Plant
Ed Kohler
Dear Google,

It's come to my attention that you're acquiring land near power plants. It just so happens that a beautiful parcel of land is opening up near a power plant in St. Paul, Minnesota that may be of interest to you.

First, where is St. Paul, Minnesota? Here you go (compliments of Google Earth):


St. Paul, Minnesota is the state capitol and home to 287,151 residents. It's also part of the larger Twin Cities metropolitan area of 2,000,000+ people. The area has highly educated workforce and includes many universities, including the University of Minnesota (home of Gopher ) and Macalester College (graduates include Kofi Annan and the Allaire brothers). Basically, it's an area with Google caliber employees.

Now, let's talk real estate. Here's a picture of the land parcel:


The industrial area in the center of the above picture is the topic of discussion. This is the current home of Ford Motor Company's Twin Cities Assembly Plant. This is where Ford Rangers come from. Ford has announced plans to close this plant in 2008, creating a rare opportunity to buy a huge piece of land in the heart of the Twin Cities.

Why Buy the Ford Twin Cities Assembly Plant?

The plant offers a unique set of features that may be of interest to Google.

1. Your own hydroelectric dam. That's right. As you can see in the photo below, the Mississippi River is dammed just to the West of the plant, generating a steady stream of hydroelectric power to the facility. It's hard to beat hydroelectric power from the largest river in North America if you're looking for a reliable juice to run a data center. We're talking about 101,000,000 KWH of clean energy per year.


2. Your own train yard. If the rumors are true that you're considering building portable data centers in containers, what better way to ship those containers than on train cars straight from the assembly plant? You'd also have the option of putting them on barges a few miles from the plant to ship down the Mississippi. Tracks enter the property through the Southeast corner.

3. Free Parking. Employees love free parking. This location has acres and acres of parking currently used to store unsold Rangers coming off the assembly line.

4. Easy International Airport Access. This shot from the Northeast shows the parcel in the lower left corner and the Minneapolis/St. Paul International Airport's close proximity just across the Mississippi River. MSP is a Northwest Airlines hub offering direct flights to most major US cities, Amsterdam, and Tokyo.


5. Tunnels: Want a secure, climate controlled environment for a data center? How about UNDER the property? The land has tunnels underneath it from mining sandstone for vehicle windows.

Ford Assembly Plant Tunnels

6. Sub-dividable land.
The North end of the property could easily be sold off for retail or mixed residential and retail development. Just to the Northeast of the property is an established neighborhood commercial area (restaurants, grocery, retail, movie theater, and Chipotle). People would love to see that extended the last few blocks to the river, replacing the assembly plant's parking lot on the South side of the road.

7. Tax benefits. I doubt St. Paul or Minnesota will cut a million dollar a worker subsidy the way North Carolina apparently did for you, but they certainly play the TIF game.

8. Access to growing companies. I've noticed that you're doing more hand holding of large corporate ad buyers lately, which makes sense. Few companies will approve million dollar ad spends without a personal relationship and some wining and dining. The Twin Cities are home to a lot of big ad spenders who could use some wooing, including General Mills, Best Buy, Target, 3M, and Medtronic. These are the types of companies who can make large ad buys, especially as you move into more rich-media advertising.

That's the good news. The darker side is the current environmental state of the land. It's safe to assume that 80 years of car manufacturing generates some environmental issues. Ford isn't exactly flush with cash to remediate the property, so it may take some help from the state or federal government to clean things up. Or, if you threw down some cash to clean it up, you'd look like heroes to your new neighbors.

That's the pitch. What's it going to take to get you to St. Paul, Minnesota?


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1. Posted by: Nemo on February 13, 2007 2:22 PM:

I've long thought that the various tunnels and mines under the Twin Cities would make for awesome high-security datacenter space. The mines under the Ford plant would be a great choice. I wonder if dehumidifying a place whose ambient temperature is around 50F is cheaper per-square-foot than air-conditioning?

The dam would be an awesome selling point, if someone turned the plant into a datacenter. "Other places have their own diesel generators", they could say, "but only we have our own freaking hydroelectric dam!"

2. Posted by: davis freeberg on February 13, 2007 7:42 PM:

You make a compelling arguement, if not Google, I'm sure someone will see the value in the spot. If the envionmental problems aren't too hard to fix, it sounds like an ideal location for anyone to run a data center.

3. Posted by: David on February 14, 2007 8:22 AM:

It would be great if Google wanted to help clean up the property. With Minnesota's Land Recycling Act of 1992, they could likely purchase the property without assuming liability for existing contamination.

Contact the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency's Voluntary Investigation and Cleanup (VIC) program for more info:

4. Posted by: Westboy on February 16, 2007 3:11 PM:

The power from the dam is not nearly enough. The local power rates would need to be VERY competitive (read as super cheap!) on a national basis.

5. Posted by: Corey Donovan on February 18, 2007 12:26 AM:

I'd like to add a couple of more compelling reasons for Google's consideration.

Neighborhood Fit
- While Google undoubtedly would host an internal cafeteria that would convince most not to venture outdoors, but when they do, Highland Park is one of the cooler neighborhoods in town. Googlers would love the Chatterbox with it's Nintendo consoles set up for patrons. Punch Pizza, the Highland Grill and several other trendy cafes, shops and restaurants abound.

Local Talent
Some more talent to consider... Jawed Karim, one of the founders of YouTube, went to high school in St. Paul. The Twin Cities founded The Geek Squad. Bob Dylan would also be a good example of our independent thinkers.

6. Posted by: Jeff on February 19, 2007 6:35 PM:

Minneapolis pays basic rate of 5.8 cents/kWh, with a shitty 2.6cent/kWh fuel cost charge so 8.4 cents/kWh. I'm sure industrial users get a negotiable and discounted rate though.

How does that compare nationally?

7. Posted by: Carl on February 20, 2007 3:33 AM:

One other benefit is that the cooling costs should be relatively low for much of the year. Simply "open the windows" and run a fan to get unlimited cooling. During the summer it might be possible to run a heat pump to the river. Remember that electrical costs for cooling can be a significant cost of running a data center.

One question --- the original post mentioned 100M kWh / year from the dam, which works out to 11kW power (100M kWh / (365 * 24 h) = 11K kW). This figure would be nowhere near enough to run any decent sized data center. (Assume each server consumes an average of 50W (probably over-optimistic), assuming no air conditioning, lighting, etc., then the data center could hold 220 machines. Somehow I suspect Google runs data centers that are somewhat larger than this.) The follow-on question is whether it is possible to upgrade the hydro-electric generating capacity to the levels required to support a decent sized data center.

8. Posted by: Ken Meltsner on February 20, 2007 10:25 AM:

Slipped a few zeros in the previous comment:

100 million kwh /yr divided by 9000 hr/yr = 11 thousand kwh/hr (or kw). That's the same number you got, but then you divided it by 50 watts per server. It should have been 0.050 kw/server or 220K servers.

Even at a more realistic 0.350 kw/server, that would be about 30,000 servers. Even after doubling the total power consumption (cooling, lighting, and other non-server electrical costs), that's still 15K servers.

9. Posted by: Bob Pappas on March 7, 2007 1:25 PM:

More local talent worthy of the Bay Area:
Not that I want Adobe employees going to Google, but there is a large engineering office for Adobe Systems in Arden Hills. A majority of the engineering team for Lightroom is located there:

Also, Photoshop engineering, Premiere engineering, Acrobat server engineering, etc. all have employees there.

I'm the engineering manager for Lightroom.

10. Posted by: Graeme Thickins on March 7, 2007 4:10 PM:

Bob, thanks for identifying yourself. Lightroom looks AWESOME -- I want it!
First, though, to upgrade to that duo-processor Intel Mac... :-) Congratulations on a great product.

How cool is this, people, that most of Lightroom's engineering staff is right here in the Twin Cities? Hey, we may or may not ever get Google here, but, by God, we've got a great Adobe outpost!

Graeme Thickins
Chief Blogger
Chief Evangelist

11. Posted by: Joel on March 7, 2007 6:29 PM:

Another thing you guys didn't mention about cooling:

The mines are ripe for a geothermal exchange system. Just bore into the walls, and run pipes into the boreholes. Much easier than running pipes all the way to the river.

Depending how deep & voluminous the mines are, they can also use some of the space as cisterns (i.e., as a hydroelectric energy reserve), allowing them to fill with river water that drains through a turbine when power is scarce, then pumping them back out when power is plentiful.

12. Posted by: Bob Lawrence on March 9, 2007 7:42 AM:


Absolutely compelling. When I read the headline, I assumed it was a joke. Seeing as it is Friday, a joke early in the day sounded good.

Your argument is interesting and appears to be sound. To retrofit would certainly be costly, but that kind of riverfront (with the positives that it brings) is a find.

I am in the Buffalo area and can tell you that these Riverfront/Waterfront plants don't exactly age well. Bethlehem Steel is still a massive eyesore just outside of our city.

Bob L.

13. Posted by: Ed Kohler on March 9, 2007 9:59 AM:

Thanks for the perspective, Bob. Minneapolis and St. Paul have been working hard to reclaim the riverfront through a combination of redevelopment and new construction. The flour mills that made Minneapolis what it is today and the train yards that transported the flour around the country are mostly condos and wine bars now.

14. Posted by: Katy on March 10, 2007 3:56 PM:

I want to add a few more reasons for Google to come to Minnesota:

1. In 2006, Minnesota had the highest average ACT scores among states where the majority of high school graduates took the test.

2. According to the Public Policy Institute of New York State, Inc, in 2006 Minnesota had lower energy prices than two-thirds of states in the nation (7 cents per kilowatt hour).

3. St. Paul ranks second in nation the number of college students per capita (behind only Boston).

4. A previous poster was skeptical that Minnesota would give a subsidy to a large corporation; however, Governor Pawlenty included a $6 million tax subsidy for West Publishing in his proposed 2008-09 budget. Surely he could support similar tax breaks to bring the best employer in the world to Minnesota. If not, the City of St. Paul can always create a Tax Increment Financing (TIF) district.

5. The Twin Cities has a thriving arts scene: Minneapolis boasts more theater seats per capita than any other U.S. city except New York.

6. Minnesota has more miles of bicycle trails than any other state in the nation and Minneapolis has more bike commuters than any other city.

7. In 2006, Minnesota was ranked the healthiest state in the nation by the United Health Foundation. Minnesota has never been ranked lower than number two since the survey started in 1990.

15. Posted by: Paul on March 13, 2007 12:17 AM:

The Twin Cities metro population is actually closer to 3 million. This study, for example, put it at 2.8 in April 2005:

And yes, we'd love to have Google in town!

16. Posted by: Shawn on July 23, 2007 1:05 PM:

Unfortunately, it looks like Ford is selling the hydroelectric dam to a quebec energy company.

17. Posted by: Max on January 15, 2009 10:02 PM:

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