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By Shannon Mullen | Boston Magazine |

Illustration by Viktor Koen / Photograph by John Coletti/Getty Images

WALK INTO GOOGLE’S office at 5 Cambridge Center in Kendall Square and you’re likely to see all manner of quirk. Staffers hold meetings in beach cabanas and, on annual formal Fridays, come to work dressed in tuxes and prom gowns. A funky mural of Fenway Park adorns the rec room, and one of the hallways has been remade into a replica of a Beacon Hill street. Some engineers have hung a blowup racecar from the ceiling, and the setup even includes a geodesic dome that’s sort of like a mini jungle gym for nerds. They got their off-kilter office accents from a defunct toy store, making the workplace look like a scene from Dr. Seuss.

Soon the engineers will have much more room to play. That’s courtesy of the sales staffers, who are packing up and leaving. They weren’t laid off, though, just relocated. The search giant’s local workforce of more than 350 has outgrown its current 75,000-square-foot digs, so now Google is leasing another 60,000 in 3 Cambridge Center, complete with a chic new café that serves staffers the gratis gourmet meals Google is famous for.

The brand-new space, located right next door, comes complete with sleek furniture, futuristic light fixtures, and plenty of local flavor: The conference rooms are all named for hard-to-pronounce Massachusetts towns like Gloucester, Scituate, and Chatham.

But Google’s commitment to Boston extends past celebrating our patois: In nearly doubling its space here, the company is also doubling down on Boston. Google won’t make hiring projections, but between the two buildings, there’s room for hundreds more employees. (Even as the sales staff moves over, two of the three floors in the new space are still under construction.) What else can we expect to grow? The amount of cash Google injects into the local economy. The company figures that in 2010, it provided $2.8 billion worth of economic activity for the state’s businesses and nonprofits. Next year? Who knows.

All this expansion comes after Google rival Microsoft scooped up almost as much space in Kendall Square last year, with plans to move in hundreds of workers from its Waltham location. Then there was Mark Zuckerberg’s recent revelation that he hopes “at some point soon” to open a Facebook office in town (not to mention his musing that, if he’d known better, he’d never have left in the first place). With such hefty endorsements from some of the world’s most important companies, the Hub’s tech scene is red hot—a fact that’s especially notable in an economy that’s recovering with all the speed of a dial-up modem.

THE FIRST GOOGLE
Boston (as the company’s operation here is usually known, despite it being in Cambridge) was actually in Boston proper: The sales outpost opened in 2003 in the Back Bay’s Park Plaza building. “This is a rich area for us, not only in hiring new college grads, but also people from industry,” says Brian Schmidt, Google Boston’s director of online sales. “Healthcare, financial services, retail—those are great grounds for us to find more-experienced talent.”

But soon Google wanted to hire local engineers to go along with that sales staff. So in 2008, Google Boston jumped the river to Kendall Square. In addition to the direct pipeline of new engineering brainpower from the area’s world-class schools (Google has more than 500 MIT alums on its payroll), Cambridge boasts a high concentration of tech companies, which makes it a magnet for more-seasoned pros.