How A Washington Farm Town Became A Hub For The World's Data

Feb 18, 2017

The electronic data we use isn't as ephemeral as it seems. Our photos, videos, and email take up physical space in the world.

Patty Martin knows this. Some of it ends up outside her kitchen window. 

Martin lives in Quincy, a rural Washington town that happens to house vast chunks of the internet in gigantic data centers. 

Quincy, a town of about 7,000 people in a bowl of gentle hills, was known for food processing plants that turned potatoes into French fries.

That is, until companies like Microsoft, Yahoo, and Dell started caching data in warehouse-like structures that rose up from onetime farm fields, including one that's in view of Martin's home. Inside, canyons of humming computer servers sustain an invisible universe of information. 

Knkx reporter Will James visited Quincy to find out how the town became a hub of electronic information, and how the growing industry of storing and securing our data is changing the community. 

Data centers have brought new levels of prosperity to Quincy. The mayor says tax revenue has quintupled, and it seems every facet of city government is in some phase of expansion or renovation. 

But Martin thinks all this growth comes at a cost. It's not just her view of the hillside. She worries about the data centers' hunger for resources — all the electricity, diesel fuel, and water it takes to keep our data alive and at our fingertips.

"I'm not opposed to growth," she said. "I just think that if you're going to have it, you have to put every protection that's under the law in place to protect your constituents. That's not happening."  

 

Patty Martin, a former mayor of Quincy, has raised questions about the environmental and health impacts of data centers.
Credit Will James / KNKX