by Joan Tupponce
“Heartwarming” is how Liz Povar describes Microsoft Corp.’s decision to invest up to $499 million to locate its most advanced data center in the Boydton Industrial Park in Mecklenburg County.
Rural Virginia’s coup in landing the global brand name bodes well for future negotiations with worldwide technology companies, says Povar, director of business development at the Virginia Economic Development Partnership. “There is no way to get the visibility that the Microsoft seal of approval gives,” “We recognized the kind of broad play the brand would get us.”
The data center, which will create 50 jobs, marks the largest economic investment in Southern Virginia history.
The Microsoft announcement came after a two-year public and private courtship that, along with the VEDP, included Mecklenburg County, the Town of Boydton, the Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative and Dominion Virginia Power. “The courtship lasted longer than a typical project, with intense competition from North Carolina,” Povar says.
The Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative’s network will provide links to major carrier interconnection points throughout the East. “Securing the project validates the investments the Virginia Tobacco Indemnification and Community Revitalization Commission has made in the fiber-optic network through broadband,” says Povar.
The third factor in Microsoft’s decision was the location, a prepared site in the industrial park. Microsoft evaluated Virginia, Texas and North Carolina locations before making its choice. To its advantage, Mecklenburg had invested in real estate that was adjacent to water, electricity and an open-access fiber optic network. That kind of preparation emphasizes points that VEDP officials make all the time. “Localities need to have a strategic vision for their community and invest in the right assets to help them market their locality,” Povar says.
Incentives for the project include a $2.1 million grant from the Governor’s Opportunity Fund and $4.8 million from the Tobacco Commission. The Virginia Department of Business Assistance will help with training. Grants will not be disbursed until performance agreements are finalized.
The data center could open as soon as late 2011. “We hope we can replicate this in other parts of the commonwealth,” Povar says.
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