When Facebook turned down New Albany the first time for an investment, Jennifer Chrysler took it like a breakup.

“I ate more ice cream that weekend than I have ever eaten in my life,” the city’s director of community development said. “I was crying on the phone and they were going, ‘It’s not you, it’s us.’

“I didn’t know what to do,” she said. “We’d been working through the project for nine months.”

However, as Chrysler recounted at a recent economic incentives conference hosted by Vorys Sater Seymour and Pease LLP, that “rejection” paved the way for Facebook to come back and commit to building a $750 million data center in New Albany.

And that, in turn, led to two other Silicon Valley wins: An expanded data center complex from Amazon and, most recently, a $600 million data center from Google.

“Over the course of that loss, we stated in touch with (Facebook),” Chrysler said. “We never want to hear that, but we had a tough conversation about what made us losers, and some of it was how our team functions, some off it was just beyond our control.”

New Albany officials even paid Facebook a visit during a California trip and, a few months after that, the phone rang. Facebook had a new set of requirements and the consultant team thought New Albany could make the cut if it tried again. The city did, and the company quickly settled on an investment.

Building those relationships was key, Chrysler said, because consultants move from company to company, project to project. In fact, the same consultant she had worked with to land Facebook was the person she had worked with on the Amazon deal and the Google investment.

“Site selection teams bounce around from company to company,” she said. “It’s a very small world in Silicon Valley and building the relationship got us on the shortlist.”

Aaron Berke, a Vorys partner, said that has become more typical in economic development deals.

“The bottom line often isn’t the incentive,” he said. “It’s how the economic development team delivers on other things.”

Silicon Valley’s economic development process is by now well known. As has been the case with Amazon’s HQ2 and other deals, New Albany worked with consultants using fake names and keeping their employers a secret.

By Tristan Navera
Columbus Business First