Big Technology Coming to Prince Edward County?

The Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors allocated $1.5 million to the Prince Edward County Industrial Development Authority for the purchase of property suited for a data center site, which has the potential to generate high tax revenues and high-paying jobs, along with many other positive indirect impacts on the local economy. Data centers are increasingly expanding throughout the Commonwealth of Virginia, moving from Northern Virginia, which is home to one of the largest data center markets in the world (Loudon County), to other parts of the state in search of more land and lower land prices. There is a site in Prince Edward County that could make a direct impact on the community, like the Microsoft site did in nearby Boydton.

In recent years, the Virginia’s Growth Alliance (VGA) and Mid-Atlantic Broadband Communities Corporation (MBC) along with Timmons Group, completed site studies across the VGA and the Invest Southern Virginia region which identified sites that would be ideal for data center operators and other industrial users.  The Prince Edward County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) was approached with this information and hired Timmons Group to perform a due diligence study on one of the sites.  After gathering significant information on the potential risks and historical Return on Investment (ROI) for data center sites throughout Virginia, the IDA chose to move forward with an option on the property and then pursued the allocation of funds from the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors to purchase the property.

“Having evaluated numerous sites throughout the southeast, the critical infrastructure already in place combined with the overall community assets makes the Lockwood parcel one of the most uniquely qualified sites for a data center application,” said Prince Edward native Joe Hines, Senior Principal & Director of Economic Development for Timmons Group, who led the site evaluation.

Data centers have become critical infrastructure to the operation of our daily lives as a society, especially during this COVID-19 pandemic, where data center activity is at an all-time high.  For anyone who uses an iPhone or smartphone, streaming services such as Hulu or Netflix, or spends any time on Facebook or LinkedIn, they are utilizing the cloud services of a data center provider.

Kate Pickett, Prince Edward County Director of Economic Development and Public Information Officer, commented, “In recent years the county had a prospective data center company interested in our location, but were unable to locate here due to the lack of publicly-owned property with the appropriate location and infrastructure. This investment will ensure that Prince Edward County is a viable candidate for future data center prospects that we will be actively pursuing. The site will be a vital piece of inventory to market that will set us apart from other localities in the Commonwealth.”

Data center investments can easily exceed $1 billion as well as create several hundred direct and indirect jobs for a community and are locating throughout Virginia, including nearby Mecklenburg County (Microsoft) and Henrico County (Facebook and others). The ROI of a data center is evident in data from Henrico County. For every dollar the county invested, the data center industry was responsible for generating about $8.60 in tax revenue in 2018.

Both MBC and Dominion Energy, major players in the data center industry, helped vet the site.  They both strongly support the development of the site and will help market it to prospective users.  “As data center activity continues to expand in Virginia, this site in Prince Edward is well positioned because of its proximity to existing and planned MBC fiber routes that directly connect to major peering points in Northern Virginia, Richmond and Virginia Beach,” said Tad Deriso, President & CEO for MBC. “The fiber and power infrastructure along with the IT and Computer Science training programs at Longwood University, Hampden Sydney College, and our surrounding Community Colleges will support data center development for many decades to come.”

Stan Blackwell, Director of Strategic Partnerships for Dominion Energy, also noted “With the existing electric transmission infrastructure adjacent to the site, the Lockwood parcel has an excellent power story and will be able to accommodate a major Data Center campus or similar power users well into the future.  We look forward to helping Prince Edward fulfill the economic development potential of this site.”

After much study, deliberation and consideration of the information noted above by both boards, the Board of Supervisors allocated $1.9 million to the IDA to purchase 280 acres of land just off of Persimmon Tree Fork Road, where two major Dominion transmission lines merge and there is access to both MBC fiber and water from the Town of Farmville.  There is sufficient land to construct multiple structures totaling 1.3 million square feet of usable space.

“The Board of Supervisors and the Industrial Development Authority were cautious in making such an important decision and did so only after carefully vetting the potential investment, risk, and return. From a risk management perspective, the property is a physical asset to the County, as other types of companies could also potentially locate on this site, although a data center has the highest potential return on investment,” stated Wade Bartlett, Prince Edward County Administrator.

The additional money allocated from the Board of Supervisors is being used in part to offset the costs for due diligence studies already performed and the remainder is earmarked to fund efforts to help advance to a Tier 4 State Certified Site status and market the property. The county plans to proactively market the site with the help of Dominion, MBC and the Virginia Economic Development Partnership.

Brad Watson, Chairman of the Prince Edward County IDA, commented, “This was not an easy decision to make and I commend members of both boards for their diligence, enthusiasm, skepticism, and ultimately, for their vision towards the future of our community through progressive economic investment and development. The effects of a data center on the community in which it is located is evident in Mecklenburg County, which is building new multi-million-dollar schools from tax revenues generated from Microsoft. If this property is utilized as a data center, the increased tax revenues would be life-changing to our community.”

“This investment will have a positive direct impact on future revenues for the county. Data centers pay large amounts in both real estate and personal property taxes, due to the expensive equipment they use. The revenues generated from a data center will go directly toward providing vital services for our citizens and will help keep the tax rate low for our citizens, while also creating high-paying jobs,” stated Chairperson of the Prince Edward County Board of Supervisors, Jerry Townsend.

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