Facebook creates jobs in Rutherford County

Like many people in North Carolina, Rutherford County residents suffered when textile-industry jobs moved overseas during the 1990s and 2000s.

Rutherford’s unemployment rate for several years ranked among the state’s highest, said John Condrey, town manager of Forest City, just more than an hour’s drive southeast from Asheville.

“We still have high unemployment,” Condrey said.

The county’s September rate was 7.3 percent, according to the most recent data from the North Carolina Department of Commerce. That ranked 85th out of North Carolina’s 100 counties.

But it’s still much better than the 19.4 percent it hit in January 2010, when unemployment was at its worst, according to data from the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis. And it’s an improvement over the five consecutive years unemployment remained at 7.7 percent or higher beginning in August 2001.

Condrey attributed some of the economic turnaround to Facebook’s decision to open a Forest City server farm in March 2011.

“It shows confidence in our area,” Condrey said of the Menlo Park, California-based company developing 700,000 square feet for the data center.

“That tells other companies that our region is a good location,” said Condrey, who was the Rutherford County manager when local officials recruited the Facebook operation.

Keven McCammon , Facebook data-center site manager, credited “the support and visionary leadership” of Forest City and Rutherford County as reasons the company opted to set up shop there.

“We are proud to call western North Carolina home,” McCammon said in an email. He added that being a good neighbor is “one of Facebook’s highest priorities.”

To demonstrate that commitment, the company has sought to hire local residents to work at the server farm, McCammon said.

About 75 percent of the full-time equivalent of the 125 people the data center employs are local, he said.

Positions include operations managers, project managers, technicians and engineers. The plant does not disclose salary data, McCammon said.

Mike Gavin, director of marketing and community relations at Isothermal Community College in Spindale, said Facebook also has demonstrated its neighborliness by helping develop a short-term training course.

That program provides students with skills specific to working at the data center, Gavin said.

It runs 12 days and includes software and hardware training, and even mock interviews that allow students to practice for the real thing when they apply to the server farm, he said.

“(Facebook) has been a great community partner by creating jobs and opportunities for our students,” Gavin said.

And the company runs a grant program that has disbursed more than $650,000 to public and nonprofit organizations in Rutherford, Cleveland, McDowell and Polk counties since 2011, McCammon said.

Among the grants Isothermal received include a 2013, $15,000 award to install and manage a weather station and a 2014, $10,000 grant that funded a science expo and the purchase of robot kits for middle-schoolers.

Condrey is particularly excited about Facebook’s future in the region: The company’s footprint there is only going to grow.

“They’re building an additional 400,000 square-foot facility,” Condrey said. McCammon said it is scheduled to be completed in 2017.

“This provides our area with a different kind of vitality,” Condrey said.

Original source: Citizen Times