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Navigating the Evolving Data Center Landscape in Chicago and the Greater Midwest

In the heart of America’s infrastructure, Chicago’s data center market is experiencing a major shift. With a 163% inventory surge since 2015 and an additional 169MW on the horizon by 2025, Chicago is not just a market to watch; it’s the market to watch. But what catalysts are driving this transformation, and what implications does it hold for industry stakeholders?

The Surge in Demand

The emergence of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning (ML) has led to an unprecedented demand for data centers capable of handling high computational loads. According to a Data Center Frontier report, this need is driving a new wave of data center construction. Chicago, with its existing technological infrastructure, is ideally positioned to meet this demand.

The city is already home to several tech giants and startups, making it a fertile ground for data center expansion. Projects like Metro Edge’s IMD1 are a testament to this, aiming to bring state-of-the-art data center solutions to the Illinois Medical District. The increasing reliance on AI and machine learning in sectors ranging from healthcare to finance is further fueling this growth, making Chicago a hotspot for next-gen data centers.

To bring attention to the trend, a Chicago Sun Times article highlights the growing need for computational power in the city. As AI gains broader acceptance across various industries, the demand for data centers in Chicago is expected to rise significantly, solidifying its role as a primary market in the data center landscape.

Geographic and Financial Incentives

Chicago’s strategic location in the heart of the United States makes it a prime hub for internet and financial infrastructure. This geographic advantage has been a significant draw for data center developers and users alike. The state of Illinois has enacted tax incentives that have rejuvenated the Chicago-area cloud ecosystem and attracted over $4.2 billion in new development, as reported by Data Center Frontier.

Areas surrounding O’Hare Airport have emerged as new frontiers for data center activity. These western suburbs offer robust infrastructure and excellent connectivity options. The availability of large tracts of land for development is another factor making these suburbs increasingly attractive for hyperscale data center operations.

Real Estate and Investment Dynamics in Data Center Growth

Private equity has been a significant enabler in the rapid expansion of Chicago’s data center market. With substantial capital injections, these firms are accelerating the pace of data center construction and technological advancements. The influx of private equity capital is not just about speed; it’s also about innovation. It allows for the implementation of cutting-edge technologies that make these data centers more efficient and sustainable.

Real estate considerations are also crucial in this expansion. The availability of suitable land and buildings for conversion into data centers is a significant factor. Chicago’s diverse real estate portfolio, ranging from industrial zones to downtown skyscrapers, offers a variety of options for data center development, further boosting its attractiveness as a primary market.

The Hurdles and Solutions in Midwest’s Data Center Market

Despite the promising growth trajectory, the Chicago data center market still faces several obstacles. Energy sustainability is at the forefront, given the high power requirements of modern data centers. However, the industry is increasingly adopting innovative cooling technologies and integrating renewable energy sources to mitigate this issue.

Similarly, capacity management presents another challenge, particularly as data centers evolve to accommodate the computational demands of AI and machine learning. In response, companies are focusing on modular designs and scalable solutions, offering the flexibility to adapt to future requirements without the need for extensive overhauls.

Moving forward, it’s clear that overcoming these obstacles is not just a necessity but an opportunity for innovation and growth. This sets the stage for the next chapter in Chicago’s data center evolution. As the industry converges to discuss its future, Craig Huffman, Co-Founder & CEO of Metro Edge Development Partners, will share his insights on a panel at BISNOW’s DICE Midwest 2023 event. Huffman’s focus on building data centers in underserved urban communities is helping shape the future of the evolving data center landscape in Chicago and the greater Midwest. With initiatives like the  IMD1 project, Metro Edge is  not just participating in the data center boom; they are setting the standard of what’s to come.

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