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Opportunity lost Region forfeits jobs and reputation with Verizon's decision to pull out

The entire region lost when Verizon recently announced its decision not to build a $4 billion data center in the Niagara County Town of Somerset.

Verizon Regional President James J. Gerace gave three reasons, including a lawsuit by Amherst resident Mary Ann Rizzo, who owns property across the road from the site. The lawsuit, filed Nov. 15, argued that government officials paid too little attention to environmental issues and other factors.

AES Corp., which owns a coal-fired electricity plant next door to the site, in the company's opinion, wasn't moving fast enough in finalizing the sale of 178 acres to Verizon for the data center.

And Verizon is completing a $1.4 billion purchase of Terremark Worldwide, a Florida-based computing company whose data centers are in Virginia.

So, what does this all mean?

The cumulative impact on the regional economy that was sure to come out of the deal? Gone.

Gone, too, is the possibility of similar companies taking a look at such a large investment by Verizon, perhaps in the way that Verizon paid attention when Yahoo! opened a brand-new $150 million data center in Lockport.

It's not that the project was perfect. As The Buffalo News reported last year, the $614 million in hydropower discounts offered to Verizon amounted to $3.1 million per job. It was a steep price for 200 jobs, but it was never about just 200 jobs. It was also about momentum and critical mass: Yahoo, Verizon That has been lost.

What's left is a lot of finger-pointing on both sides.

There are people angry that the company canceled any idea of a plan which, by the way, was never completely solid. Still, they saw the Verizon project for what it was -- the biggest project to come along in Niagara County since the Niagara Power Project was built in Lewiston a half-century ago.

State Sen. George D. Maziarz, R-Newfane, echoed the frustration of many when he blamed "our broken bureaucracy and snaillike judiciary" in dealing with the lawsuit over environmental issues.

And then there were those concerned about any environmental impact and the amount of public dollars in the form of hydropower discounts at $614 million and breaks on sales and property taxes.

They obviously didn't buy into the broader vision of what a company like Verizon could draw in similar business and the other cumulative effect of spent paychecks from the 200 jobs the company would have brought.

Many thought this area was competing with Laramie, Wyo., where Verizon has an option on 16 acres of land. But it won't build in Wyoming, either. Instead, it will make do with Terremark Worldwide, a computing company with data centers down South.

Whatever the reason, this region lost. Again.

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