Datacenters not the gold mine rural towns thought they'd be

Because of the cheap electricity that flows alongside the Columbia River, server farms starting popping up next to actual farms in the agricultural regions of eastern Washington and Oregon back in 2006. But that doesn't mean techies with salaries that can afford a brand new McMansion will be flooding into towns like Quincy, Washington — where Grant County's publicly owned power authority offered companies like Microsoft and Yahoo rock-bottom electricity prices and developers built estates like "Serenata" on spec.

With grand entries and vaulted ceilings, the homes speak to high, perhaps unrealistic, hopes. Developers originally asked for around $400,000. They recently cut prices 25%. Few of the homes have sold; dozens remain empty, and poured foundations have been left to the weeds.

The problem is that the 460,000-sq. ft. facility recently opened by Microsoft only employs forty people, and even if those forty create two or three more jobs in town, that still amounts to work for only two percent of Quincy's tiny population. All the real jobs that the datacenters enable will go to urban centers like Seattle, just like the cheap electricity from the Grand Coulee Dam does. What jobs will be created? More of the same: Cooling and air conditioning technicians. Because one thing that apple-packing and server-packing have in common is the need to stay cool during the blistering summers. (Photo by AP/Shannon Dininny)