Googling Green Country
The impact of the high-tech company on a rural Oklahoma town runs deep.
Google is famous for creating environments for its employees that seem way more like fun than actual work. Googlers, as they are called, are treated to elaborate break areas, fully stocked kitchens, catering and video games. This investment in employees doesn’t stop at the tightly sealed security gate or the employees for that matter. Google invests itself fully in the communities where it opens operations.
“They are a good neighbor,” says Larry Williams, the 21-year general manager of MidAmerica Industrial Park in Pryor, where Google purchased 900 acres to build their sixth U.S. datacenter. “They are a very community-spirited, very community-minded company.”
There was immediate and tangible economic impact of Google’s $600 million investment. There was a boost to construction, most of which was completed by Oklahoma companies. About 100 jobs that pay above industry standards were largely filled with people from Pryor and surrounding communities. An estimated $1 million contribution in sales tax was added. A recently announced expansion will add about 50 jobs and about $100 million to Google’s investment. And Google’s datacenter only went live in September 2011.
These numbers, however, says Pryor Mayor Jimmy Tramel, are eclipsed by Google’s immense contribution to the community. The total economic impact is impossible to put a figure on, he says.
“The social impact and quality of life impact are immeasurable,” Tramel adds.
Among those institutions Google is reaching out to are local schools.
Don Raleigh, superintendent for Pryor Public Schools, applied for a grant from Google to fund computers for a new high-tech, hands-on physics lab at the junior high.
“I wrote it for $25,000, and they came back and said that’s not enough and actually granted us with $30,000,” he says.
In the few years Google has been in Oklahoma, they have granted Pryor schools alone about $92,000. This has been used to create state of the art robotics and high-end desktop publishing and video production labs, and added computers to libraries and classrooms.
A total of nine grants have been funded by Google in the last six months totaling about $300,000 to fund programs in science, technology, engineering and math to area schools and organizations, says Mike Wooten, operations manager for the Google datacenter.
Most recently, they have partnered with the Boys and Girls Club to create a remote command center to communicate with marine biologist Robert Ballard during his deep-sea explorations.
“They are giving kids in this area, and adults, a huge advantage in the future,” says Tramel.
Google also partnered with the city to provide the 40-business downtown area with wireless internet service.
Google is also investing itself in local businesses.
“Everything they do, they do locally,” says Tramel.
Through a free, one-day program called Get Your Business Online, Google educates local businesses on how to create and run a website. Google also shows the businesses tools they offer that can be used to promote and manage business.
“Pryor and Mayes County and northeastern Oklahoma couldn’t have asked for a better corporate citizen,” says Barbara Hawkins, president of the Pryor Area Chamber of Commerce.
Tramel says that Googlers have become ubiquitous in the community.
It is larger than just the Pryor and Mayes County communities. Google has had an impact on the entire state economy, says Jon Chiappe, deputy division director of research and economic analysis at the Oklahoma Department of Commerce.
Spotlight on Oklahoma
Google’s location and success in Mayes County has focused a spotlight on Oklahoma, even if the total impact can’t yet be fully evaluated.
“Economic gain is a long game,” says Dustin Pyeatt, spokesperson for the Oklahoma Department of Commerce.
Google has prompted people to take a second look at what is going on in Oklahoma, he says.
“Every state thinks they are the best state, but we know that after an exhaustive search Google located in Oklahoma. We believe it positions Oklahoma uniquely to say, ‘If it is good enough for Google, maybe there is something here you also need to look at when you are selecting the location for your next facility,’” says Williams.