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Sites in Roanoke and Wythe counties are top picks by Appalachian Power Co.
Thursday, April 25, 2013
The next time Google or Apple or any other high-tech company needs a new data center, they'll have a road map to two good sites in Southwest Virginia courtesy of Appalachian Power Co.
The electric utility on Thursday announced what it called the top two data-center locations in its Southwest Virginia service area: the Roanoke County Center for Research & Technology near Interstate 81 and Progress Park at the Interstate 81/Interstate 77 junction in Wythe County.
The utility paid consultants about $20,000 per business park to confirm that each has the critical assets of electrical and telecommunication infrastructure, or could be quickly updated.
Appalachian has labeled each of those municipal business parks as a "Qualified Data Center Site," a marketing designation that also takes into account Southwest Virginia's mild climate and low relative risk of natural disasters and the state's tax and development policies, which consultants found to be pro-business.
The work, by the site consulting firm Biggins Lacey Shapiro & Co. and the energy consulting firm Sugarloaf Associates, will be packaged in a marketing campaign by Appalachian's parent company, American Electric Power, to attract new employers to the communities it powers.
The program "will be used to attract a very targeted industry sector which is very energy intensive but also brings about sought-after technology-driven, high-paying jobs and local capital investment which helps boost the economy," said John Smolak, director of economic and business development at Appalachian.
Appalachian did not identify all the business parks of Southwest Virginia its advisors evaluated, but said the two sites deemed ready with more than 20 megawatts of electricity available are among the first company-designated data center sites it has announced.
In all, AEP's online map of data center sweet spots shows that Texas, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Indiana and West Virginia each have a "development-ready site that has passed a rigorous independent qualification process." There are two each in Ohio and Virginia.
Data centers are crowding into Northern Virginia. Amazon and LinkedIn are some of the companies with data center projects or leases in that region. Loudoun County is home to more than 4 million square feet of data centers in an region dubbed "Data Center Alley" in the service area of Dominion Power. Capital One operates data centers in Chesterfield and Henrico counties.
Appalachian and local economic developers such as Jill Loope of Roanoke County, who attended the announcement, are hoping companies will build more.
And with cloud computing placing ever-larger loads on data centers, Smolak said industry experts believe almost half of companies now operating data centers will need new locations within three years.
Rural areas are getting more consideration from data-center location scouts than in the past, said Mary Rae Carter, a deputy secretary of commerce and trade for rural development for Virginia.
In addition to rural areas' lower construction costs, companies want to place at least some of their sensitive data operations outside what Carter called "the blast zone."
To comprehensively cover the factors data centers need, Appalachian's consultants also evaluated reports on soil conditions at the business parks and included only those with stable ground.
That way, Appalachian reduced the chance of a repeat of what happened to Microsoft Corp. in 2010, when the tech giant aborted a planned announcement of a $499 million data center at Falling Branch Business Park in Christiansburg in response to the discovery of a sinkhole on the property.
Microsoft subsequently built the facility in Boydton in Mecklenburg County. Gov. Bob McDonnell announced in January that after spending up to $499 million to establish the facility in 2010, Microsoft has announced two expansions, for $150 million and $348 million, bringing the total to nearly $1 billion.
Carter said jobs in the industry pay $70,000 to $100,000 a year, and she hears that Microsoft's Boydton data center employs 100 people.
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