Why corporate growth no longer means job growth

The digital revolution means that an incredible amount of wealth and progress can be created with virtually no positive impact on jobs and the economy

Robert Galbraith/Reuters/File
The Apple logo is shown at Apple's flagship retail store in San Francisco in this file photo. Apple recently completed a $1 billion data center in Maiden, N.C. However, the data center only translates to 50 new jobs in the town, where unemployment is rampant.

"The data centers that power the cloud and run programs such as Gmail and iTunes employ thousands of servers but only dozens of people."

One of the great paradoxes (paradoxi?) of the Digital Revolution is the sheer amount of wealth and progress that can be created with almost zero net new job growth for the economy.  Those kids running around the Genius Bar in blue shirts are merely replacing the help desk operators (whose jobs were shipped to Bangalore) and the local guy who posts "computer help" flyers on telephone poles around town.

A really stark example of this phenomenon is taking place in a North Carolina "data center town" as we speak...

From the Washington Post:

MAIDEN, N.C. — Here in this once-thriving town of furniture makers and textile mills, where Main Street businesses have vanished, nearby fast-food joints have closed and unemployment is rampant, government officials have lined up behind a flashy digital answer to all the heartache: The cloud.

Just off Startown Road, on the edge of town, Apple recently completed a massive $1 billion data center to help power its cloud computing products.

Total new full-time jobs running the facility: 50.

Apple’s data center has been a disappointing development for many residents, who can’t comprehend how expensive facilities stretching across hundreds of acres can create so few jobs, especially after thousands of positions in the region have been lost to cheaper foreign competition. But in the newer digital economy, capital investments that a generation ago would have created thousands of new positions often equal only a handful today, with computers and software processing the heavy lifting while the key programming is often done by engineers back in Silicon Valley.

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