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With sights set on $1B Apple server farm, NC approves changes

North Carolina lawmakers debated for less than a minute on Monday before approving changes to the state's corporate tax laws designed to lure Apple and a $1 billion server farm project to one of their rural communities.

The Associated Press reports that the state Senate voted 40 - 8 in favor of the move following last-minute pleas from republicans who urged that the bill be rejected on grounds that it unfairly favors big businesses over small, localized companies.

Apple declined to comment on the matter but Gov. Beverly Perdue is expected to sign the bill into law quickly in hopes that the Mac and iPhone maker will respond "within days" with an official commitment to begin building a $1 billon server farm in the backyard of one of the state's struggling counties.

The bill was structured to give a single company — identified last month as Apple — a tax break of up to $46 million over the next 10 years, assuming that company reaches its $1 billion investment target within nine years of beginning the project, provides health insurance for its local employees, meets a wage standard, and foregoes other state grants or tax breaks.

Should Apple's server farm remain active for three decades, corporate tax breaks could exceed $300 million, according to estimates outlined by North Carolina's legislature. The project is expected to create hundreds of construction jobs during a year-long construction effort and employee roughly 100 when the site initially opens for business.

Server farms, more commonly referred to as data centers, are sprawling, climate-controlled computer facilities designed to process massive volumes of data that come and go via thick internet pipes. As such, they typically consume large amounts of power, and in some cases, water.

For its part, Apple has reportedly been considering two sites in western North Carolina to house the server farm, which is expected to support the staggering growth of its iTunes and App Store digital download services: Catawba and Cleveland counties, both of which have unemployment rates north of 15 percent.

However, a report published Monday by Data Center Knowledge singled out Catawba as frontrunner, saying its an "all but done" deal that Apple will choose the county over rival Cleveland County. The Cupertino-based company is even reported to have earmarked a specific piece of land for the project.

Catawba County officials have reportedly been touting several sites off Route 321 for their fiber and power infrastructure in an effort to market those locations as viable data center lots. One site is a 183-acre tract in Maiden known as Catawba Data Park, which may suit Apple’s reported desire for a multi-facility campus setting.