The Facebook Grand Opening party was fun. I am a devotee of barbeque and the buffet (chicken, pulled pork, ribs!) met all my expectations. Yet, it wasn’t until the Facebook data center designer sat down across from me that I saw the scene from a California perspective. His friend Jack also from Silicon Valley had two ribs pointedly kept from touching the small pool of barbeque sauce that the realization hit me.
“You’re not from around here,” I stated to Jack.
“What’s your first clue?” he asked laughingly.
“It’s not your obvious Asian descent, but the fact you know nothing about how to eat barbeque!”
While we shared laughs about cultural differences, underlying all that were some hard fast truths.
Tom Johnson, former EDC director who was instrumental in bringing Facebook to Rutherford County, long ago had told me that the location of the Facebook data center here was a gamechanger.
Looking around the celebration in the huge tent, I observed many of the old guard and many of the new guard in our government present. The good news was that there were no “I did this” stances along party lines. In general, there is a feeling of moving on – progress.
Yet, the theme bothered me. Sorting through Deb Keller’s hundreds of photographs gave me pause. Of over 300 people in that crowd, there was one person of color. No diversity in race & ethnicity was to be found. The theme of the rural south continued – rocking chairs on the stage, cornhole for entertainment, barbeque, and a few pats on the back.
You could tell who the Facebook employees were as they were checking their smartphones. Facebook brought youth, vitality, prosperity, and innovation into the area. We serve them with old south customs and barbeque. This clinging to our past and ignoring progress has been seen before. My ancestral farm is now a hunting lodge in a small desolate town. The young and talented ones move away.
The end of the mill era hit SC long before it did NC. The textile industry of Greenville, SC gave me a scholarship to study engineering at college. By the time I graduated, the textile industry hayday was over. Downtown suffered, people moved away, and the future looked very bleak.
Then BMW and its supporting industries moved into Greenville. A new vision began to emerge from the ashes of the mills. A master plan capitalized on the quaint downtown, encouraged streetscapes, developed walking paths along the riverfront and supported local upscale restaurants & stores in its downtown.
Greenville let go of its old way of thinking 20 years ago and has become a bustling small city with international flavor. There are art events, cultural history, and diversity. None of that came from clinging to the past. Their good ole boy networks are “Gone with the Wind.”
Facebook IS a gamechanger in the community. Those visiting here will either find our community 1950′s Mayberry or perhaps a community in transition making changes for a future most of us won’t live to see.
The forward thinking of the Daniel Road Project has backtracked into donating a sizable portion of the land to ICC, canceling a much needed pet adoption center, and using the rest of the property at no cost for trails. There’s a song for that – “Two steps forward, three steps back.” If these are the amenities we are offering to the upscale, innovative thinkers we are desperately in need of to create a welcoming sustainable community we need to REthink.
Thanks for being here Facebook – we appreciate the boost to our economy and the positive vibes slowly rippling out from your new Data Center. Stick around – we can step up our game.