In Defense of Data Centers: Remember the Electricians

Oct. 4, 2023
Joe Dabbs, business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 26, explains why it's important to keep the human impact of massive data center projects in mind.
Northern Virginia has the largest and most mature data center market in the world. In 2021 data centers provided 10,230 construction and manufacturing jobs across Virginia, with approximately 45% of those jobs representing electricians.
These numbers do not account for the roughly 30 electricians who service and maintain each data center campus. With the need for data center computing estimated to double in the next 7 years, the need for skilled electricians is ever-increasing. Our membership has been able to keep pace with the demands of the industry, growing from 7,500 to 12,000 trained electricians over the last decade. We have been proud to complete our jobs on time and on budget, expediting the speed to market for end users who put their trust in our signatory electrical contractors. The IBEW has been able to increase speed to market through our top of the industry apprenticeship training program, existing skilled journeyman, and our advocacy in the community.

As resistance to new data center projects mounts across Northern Virginia it is important to keep in mind the human impact of these behemoth developments and how personal stories can shift the tide.

Beyond the arguments for tax revenue and the promises of proffers, data center developers should consider telling the stories of the workers that build their campuses. A 7.5M sq ft facility could mean 20,000 jobs for electricians over 15 years. That means providing solid middle-class jobs to a huge number of workers in the locality approving the project. It also means creating pathways for students to six figure salaries without having to attend college. Each large project approved is a substantial part of a worker’s career.

It's not enough to just tell Supervisors or Planning Commissioners about the jobs workers gain from data center developments, you must show them. Practically this means having electrical workers testify, submit letters, talk to the press, and call their representatives in support of projects. Personalizing the work and the impact of having these jobs closer to home.

All this is to say data centers create opportunity not just in physical and financial benefits to a locality but by creating careers and uplifting generations of workers. We have told this story successfully across our market and continue to win approvals and the jobs that come with them for our members.

Joe Dabbs is business manager of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 26. The IBEW Local 26 represents 12,000 union electricians in DC, MD, and VA, many of whom build data centers. 

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