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Virgin Mary appears in Google's Iowa data center

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Who needs religion in middle America when you have Google?

Google executive Ken Patchett recently visited Council Bluffs, Iowa and received a hero's welcome. Patchett leads Google's effort to build a $600m data center in corn country, and the locals couldn't be happier to have him around - at least according to propaganda purveyor The Des Moines Register. The paper has presented Patchett and Google as the bringers of all things wonderful - entities capable of curing ills and feeding the poor.

These days Google and Microsoft march into small, depressed towns with similar stories. "Give us a few tax breaks, and we'll build a $600m data center in your backyard. You'll be seen as a technology leader, and we'll bring in a ton of jobs."

In actual fact, however, these mega data centers used to fuel both companies' internet ambitions provide very few jobs over the long haul. It takes hundreds of construction crews, contractors and suppliers to set up a mega data center but only about three dozen people to run the center post-construction.

But who wants to focus on the long-term reality of an advertising entity setting up shop, when you can anoint a near-term hero?

Iowa, for example, expects Google to bless it in the same way that the company touched The Dalles - a city in Oregon where Google set up another mega data center.

As The Des Moines Register tells it,

Patchett said the company has erred in being too hush-hush in the communities in which it has grown. For example, Google dramatically changed The Dalles, a somewhat rural community, but it didn't let the community in enough on its plans, he said.

To address that, the company recently launched outreach efforts in earnest. Google has been lending technical expertise to emergency responders in The Dalles to improve the area's 911 service, and helping clean up a nearby lake, volunteering at the library and giving to the local animal shelter.

Now in Iowa Google is being celebrated for sending job ads to a community college. "Google's hiring. Come on home."

In addition, Google looks to plant executives with the Chamber of Commerce and will aid non-profits via free online advertising.

We'd bring you more examples of Google's coming generosity if only the reporter had bothered to dig up anything else substantial. Instead, she dwelled on the standard Google hagiography tripe, boasting of Nerf gun fights, decent lunches and "casual Fridays all week".

Should a town really base its hopes and dreams on three dozen workers getting to wear jeans to work? Oh, why not.

"Google's a part of Iowa. Google's a part of Council Bluffs," Patchett told the paper.

You know, the text ads part of Iowa.

Apparently, the locals are so enamored by the ad broker that they've already started advertising for Google.

During a Chamber of Commerce meeting, Iowa residents plastered themselves with Google T-shirts. The Chamber president even went so far as to wear a Google shirt under his suit jacket, keeping the colored balls icon close to his heart.

Don't get us wrong. Jobs are wonderful things. And, as Patchett was quick to point out, Google delivers serious financial muscle when it's a'buildin. In The Dalles, one construction company alone ordered up $500,000 in lunches. Given the right menu, that's a lot of corn.

What proves less comforting is the desire by local press - and this plays out time and again - to fool readers into thinking Google will create jobs in a meaningful way for years to come. Sadly, only a handful of those community college workers will end up with jobs plugging in server racks.

There's an inclination to glorify Google at all costs - as we've pointed out many times. It's a bizarre urge given that Google's main goal in the near-term fails to go much beyond putting text ads in your face in any way possible.

In the years to come, Google has far greater ambitions. It would like to become a fully-integrated part of your brain - a subject best explored, in our view, in business writer Nick Carr's new book The Big Switch.

To pull off such a bold job, you have to start somewhere.

And it would seem that Google, like so many politicians before it, has eyed Iowa as a nice place to initiate the mind-meld.

Anyone have a "Google Iowa" t-shirt for us? ®

Register editor Ashlee Vance has just pumped out a new book that's a guide to Silicon Valley. The book starts with the electronics pioneers present in the Bay Area in the early 20th century and marches up to today's heavies. Want to know where Gordon Moore eats Chinese food, how unions affected the rise of microprocessors or how Fairchild Semiconductor got its start? This is the book for you - available at Amazon US here or in the UK here.

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