Breaking down Switch’s 1,000 pyramid jobs

The old Steelcase pyramid in Gaines Township. (Nov. 16, 2015.)

GAINES TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — If the old Steelcase pyramid near Grand Rapids becomes a mega data center, most of the 1,000 or so new employees there wouldn’t actually work for the company behind it.

Switch, the Las Vegas-based cloud storage company, expects to fill about 400 high-tech jobs at the data center, while others working there would be employed by companies that use the center, according to a local economic development leader. It’s called co-locating.

“They are very good jobs, good-paying jobs,” said Birgit Klohs, CEO of The Right Place, Inc., the economic development group working to bring Switch to West Michigan.

A rendering of the proposed data center at the site of the former Steelcase pyramid in Gaines Township. (Switch/The Right Place, Inc.)
(A rendering of the proposed data center at the site of the former Steelcase pyramid in Gaines Township. Courtesy Switch/The Right Place, Inc.)

Switch is waiting for legislative approval of state tax incentives before converting the pyramid off 60th Street and East Paris Avenue into a huge data center and adding more buildings — a proposed $5 billion project. The center would be the biggest in the eastern U.S. — a place for major companies to store and process data. Switch’s customers include Sony, Dreamworks, Amazon, Time Warner and hundreds more.

Switch already operates a massive data center in Las Vegas and has started construction on the world’s biggest center in Reno, about 6 million square feet. It plans a 2 million-square foot project at the Steelcase pyramid site.

“When they’re talking about a thousand jobs and a $5 billion project and 2 million square feet of data center space, we’re talking about a period of 10 years,” Klohs said.

It’s expected that some of the 600 or so employed by Switch’s clients would work permanently at the site, while others would fly in and out. It’s still not clear how many of the workers would come from West Michigan.

“Some of the other jobs will be hired here and some of it will be talent attraction, bringing new talent to the area, just like we did on the Medical Mile area,” Klohs said. “They will be new to the area, so we’ll have both job retention here, job creation here and job and talent attraction to the area.”

Switch said it plans to focus on military veterans when it does hire. It says veterans already make up about 70 percent of its workforce.

“They’re known across the nation as a veteran-friendly employer,” said David O’Neill, a coordinator at Volunteers of America Michigan, a nonprofit that helps veterans find housing and jobs.

Volunteers of America leaders say they plan to reach out to Switch after learning the company is eyeing West Michigan.

“This is fantastic news and it’s going to present an incredible opportunity for veterans with tech-related skills and experiences to gain meaningful employment here in West Michigan,” O’Neill said.

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