CAPRE’s Chicago Data Center Summit Preview: Q&A with Andy Stapleton, Mortenson

CHICAGO, IL — Andy graduated from Iowa State University in 1995. After being awarded the Klinger Award for the Outstanding Graduate in Construction Engineering, he began his career with Mortenson. Currently serving as a general manager for the Chicago office, Andy provides leadership of the business development, marketing, design phase, and virtual design & construction teams in Chicago, as well as strategic oversight of the Mission Critical market. In anticipation of CAPRE’s upcoming Chicago Data Center Summit, where he will be a featured speaker, we connected with Andy to learn about the view from Mortenson in Chicago.

CAPRE: How would you characterize your activity in 2019 so far?

New SquareStapleton: From a national perspective, the rapid growth of cloud adoption has reinforced the emphasis on large, hyperscale builds in most primary markets. As it relates to cloud build, we are very busy. We’re building for Facebook out in Utah, partnering with QTS here in Chicago and partnering strategically with other key players. We are excited to support QTS’ continued growth here locally.  2019 is looking to be a strong year.

Speed to market is the driver, no matter who you’re talking to. Even more than in past years, people are asking right up front about what we will bring to the table to support their rapid deployment.  We love that!  Mortenson is a leader in leveraging prefabrication, modular components and lean manufacturing techniques to deliver an exceptional experience for our customers. Prefabrication is no longer cutting edge. It’s more, what are you doing about it, and how do you do it differently?

CAPRE: How is 2019 different from this point in 2018?

Stapleton: Early in 2018, many colocation providers were in the beginning stages of implementing newly developed strategies that focus on hyperscale deployments.  There was a bit of a pause as some companies validated their plans and aligned them with their targeted customers.  Those firms have since ramped up their efforts.  2018 finished strong and 2019 shows no signs of slowing down.  This outlook seems to be reinforced every day as we continue to hear about the large cloud firms continuing to invest in their data centers.  A great example of this is Google’s recent announcement that it would invest more than $13 billion in data centers and offices in the United States this year.

CAPRE: How would you characterize the Chicago and/or Midwestern data center arena as compared to the rest of the U.S.?

Andy Stapleton, General Manager, Chicago, Mortenson

Stapleton: The bottom line is that Northern Virginia is where the vast majority of data center construction is taking place.  JLL recently presented that Northern Virginia experienced 270 MW of absorption in 2018 as compared with 40 MW in Chicago and Dallas.  Phoenix also continues to experience rapid growth jumping to 51 MW in 2018.  Chicago remains a primary market.  With the addition of new national players and further investment by established providers, the outlook for Chicago remains strong.

CAPRE: What will people be talking about at CAPRE’s upcoming Chicago Data Center Summit?

Stapleton: There will be a lot of chatter about some projects that have been talked about for a while but haven’t been implemented as quickly as anticipated in 2018. So people want to know, what will really take off in 2019? Reality versus speculation.

We should also be talking about the creation of incentives to attract the major cloud firms like Facebook, AWS, Apple, Netflix and Google to build in Illinois.  Magnum Economics published a report in November of last year that outlined the potential impact of having data center incentives in Illinois.  This should be on everyone’s mind.

CAPRE: What kinds of trends or technologies present the biggest opportunity right now for the industry?

Stapleton: One thing we’re very excited about is renewable energy. More and more companies are talking about renewable energy being key facets of their data center developments. It used to be just the large cloud companies.  Today, colocation providers have incorporated renewable energy and sustainability into their company strategy.  For example, QTS has joined EPA’s Green Power Partner Program as part of their commitment to utilizing as much renewable resources and energy as possible in their ongoing operations.

The focus on renewable energy is especially important to Mortenson.  We have been building utility scale renewable energy projects for 24 years and are one of the leading builders of wind and solar in the U.S.  Mortenson has installed numerous wind and solar farms that supply renewable energy to data center companies such as Facebook, Google and Amazon.

CAPRE: What other trends are you observing recently?

Stapleton: Everyone is focused on standardizing equipment across their portfolio.  This allows them the most flexibility to respond to shifting demands across markets and geographies.  Standardization also provides them with greater purchasing power, contributing to improved business results.  The trick is standardizing where it makes sense, and not getting caught between conflicting code requirements and varying climates.

CAPRE: Got it, thanks for your time today, Andy. We’ll see you in Chicago.

Founded in 1954, Mortenson Construction is a U.S.-based, family-owned construction company that provides planning, program management, preconstruction, general contracting, construction management, design-build, and turn-key development. Mortenson has offices in Chicago, Denver, Milwaukee, Minneapolis, Phoenix, and Seattle with international operations in Canada and China. Projects include the Union Depot in St. Paul, Minnesota and the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago.