MWC’s Chris Lloyd, Ford Graham Pen Area Development Article “How to Overcome NIMBYism in Data Centers”

May 23, 2024

In the second quarter issue of Area Development magazine, McGuireWoods Consulting’s Chris Lloyd and W. Ford Graham co-authored an article on “How to Overcome NIMBYism in Data Centers”. Lloyd is a senior vice president and director of MWC’s national infrastructure and economic development team and a member and past chair of the Site Selectors Guild. Graham is a senior vice president at MWC and McGuireWoods partner. Graham is also a member of the Site Selectors Guild.

The article notes that NIMBYism – Not In My Backyard – has been an “age-old issue of issue of neighboring property owners/renters wanting things to stay as they are, often paired with a rational concern about the unknown ramifications of a new industrial neighbor.”

Lloyd and Graham noted that because of the rise of social media and a decline of trust in institutions, “traditional NIMBYism has morphed into BANANA’s (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anyone) and CAVEs (Citizens Against Virtually Everything), and we now see that a small, vocal group of media savvy activists can influence political decision-making.”

Data centers have drawn the ire of many community opponents. Valuable, job-creating, tax-generating economic development projects that may otherwise fit perfectly into the fabric of a community can be delayed or derailed through the efforts of a small but vocal assemblage of misinformed (or misaligned) citizen activists.

Lloyd and Graham note two core principles to overcome resistance from would-be neighbors: 1) implement a concerted, strategic data-driven effort and 2) start yesterday.

In the article, they discuss five key points to combat NIMBYism in a project:

  • Clearly define the project;
  • Highlight the alternatives that could be less attractive to the community;
  • Get to know the community;
  • Gauge true community sentiment through polling and outreach; and
  • Combat “dis-” and “mis-” with correct information.

Taking a page out of a traditional, grassroots political campaign plan and implementing it locally to educate and inform about the value that data centers can bring may help smooth the community approval process. The larger the scope and impact of the potential project, the greater the need to muster the appropriate resources to ensure the public is properly informed and engaged.