What does a corporation owe its community?

That was the question posed in a recent Atlantic Cities article reacting to Microsoft’s uneven relationship with the small town of Quincy, WA, where Microsoft runs some of its largest and most important data centers. In exchange for tax incentives and cheap electricity rates, Microsoft brought its server farms to the small farming community and, according to the NYT, has not been the best of partners. One anecdote in particular points out just how uneven that relationship between corporation and community can be:

Near the end of last year, Microsoft received a notice from the county utility that it would be fined $210,000 for over-estimating its power needs, a mistake that prevented the county from re-selling the power. Yahoo, which also runs a server farm in the town, similarly over-estimated and quietly paid its $94,608 penalty. But Microsoft instead began to burn power furiously in what it admitted was a “commercially unproductive” manner, and warned that it would continue doing so unless the county lowered the fine.  The utility board caved in during a special weekend session and agreed to lower the fine to $60,000.

In an attempt to answer the broader question, Harvard Business School’s Competitiveness Project highlighted six actions that companies can take make the relationship more symbiotic and ensure mutual long-term value:

  1. Create and expand worker training programs
  2. Upgrade local industries by sourcing from local suppliers and helping improve their capacities
  3. Moving business activities back to the U.S.
  4. Adopting management practices that bolster U.S. operations
  5. Supporting innovation and entrepreneurship via research engagements or backing local start-ups
  6. Transforming lobbying practices from special interests to business-wide improvements

Supplier Connection is one example of how to make it all work.

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