Last May, officials in Midlothian, Texas, a city near Dallas, approved more than $10 million in tax breaks for a huge, mysterious new development across from a shuttered Toys R’ Us warehouse.
That day was the first time officials had spoken publicly about an enigmatic developer’s plans to build a sprawling data center. The developer, which incorporated with the state four months earlier, went by the name Sharka LLC. City officials declined at the time to say who was behind Sharka.
The mystery company was Google — a fact the city revealed two months later, after the project was formally approved. Larry Barnett, president of Midlothian Economic Development, one of the agencies that negotiated the data center deal, said he knew at the time the tech giant was the one seeking a decade of tax giveaways for the project, but he was prohibited from disclosing it because the company had demanded secrecy.
“I’m confident that had the community known this project was under the direction of Google, people would have spoken out, but we were never given the chance to speak,” said Travis Smith, managing editor of the Waxahachie Daily Light, the local paper. “We didn’t know that it was Google until after it passed.”
After the deal went through, Sharka changed its main address to that of Google’s headquarters in Mountain View, California. Site work began last fall.
Google – which has risen to become one of the world’s most valuable companies by transforming the public’s ability to access information – has vastly expanded its geographic footprint over the last decade, building more than 15 data centers on three continents and 70 offices worldwide. But that development spree has often been shrouded in secrecy, making it nearly impossible for some communities to know, let alone protest or debate, who is using their land, their resources and their tax dollars until after the fact, according to Washington Post interviews and newly released public records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request.