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McDonnell in Mecklenburg to discuss prospect

SoVaNow.com / June 16, 2010
The Town of Boydton hosted an unannounced meeting attended by unexpected guest yesterday as Gov. Bob McDonnell dropped by for a chat and, perhaps, late-stage discussions to seal a major economic development prospect for Mecklenburg County.

Administration spokesperson Taylor Thornley confirmed Tuesday that McDonnell traveled to Boydton in the morning for private talks with local officials. However, Thornley said she could not comment on the nature of the discussions after McDonnell was spotted in town. The Boydton visit was not listed on the Governor’s public schedule, available at the governor’s official website at http://www.governor.virginia.gov.

In a follow-up e-mail message last night, Thornley confirmed that McDonnell was the only member of the administration to attend the gathering.

Other officials, however, have confirmed that the meeting was called to discuss the county’s pursuit of a major economic development prospect believed to be looking at the Boydton Industrial Park. The last time the Boydton site was mentioned publicly as a candidate for new industry, the prospect was Apple Computer, which was seeking a location for a massive data storage complex.

Virginia finished as runner-up in the contest to land Apple, which in June 2009 chose North Carolina for a data storage farm representing a $1 billion investment. At the time, Virginia officials said the Boydton park emerged late in the game as Apple’s second choice behind the winning site in Maiden, N.C.

Contacted late yesterday by phone, Tad Deriso president of Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative, confirmed that he was among the area officials conferring with the governor yesterday.

“He (McDonnell) was at the meeting today but that’s pretty much all I can say,” said Deriso. “It was economic development related, but I can’t talk about who it [the prospect] was and who was there. I’m under very strict rules of engagement on what I’m allowed to say.”

Deriso, whose company provides fiber-optic broadband connectivity in Southside and Southwest Virginia, did confirm that the discussion was unrelated to Apple.

Pressed further to elaborate on McDonnell’s role, Deriso replied, “He is obviously the jobs governor and gunning for Southside, and hopefully his presence today made a difference.

“I really can’t talk about the prospect. I wish I could,” he said.

Mecklenburg County has pursued a strategy of recruiting data centers in the wake of Electronic Data System’s choice of Clarksville to host a data center in 2007. EDS, which subsequently was bought out by Hewlett-Packard, established operations in Clarksville after winning an $800 million contract from the Department of Homeland Security for highly secure data services.

In March 2009 Mecklenburg County submitted a $3.5 million grant application to the Virginia Tobacco Commission for construction of a new, 117-acre technology park near the Hewlett-Packard facility in Clarksville. The request that was subsequently approved, although construction at the site has yet to begin.

The application stated Mid-Atlantic Broadband Cooperative (MBC) can provide 200 gigabits of capacity via diverse routes to the campus as well as provide direct connectivity to Terremark NAP of the Capital region, located in Culpepper. With its fiber optic backbone stretching the path of U.S. Route 58, MBC provides similar capacity at the Boydton industrial park.

In the application for the Kinderton project, which appears to be unrelated to the latest flurry of activity, Mecklenburg officials touted the area’s “two critical components: redundant fiber and redundant power supply — both of which are essential in running and managing a 24/7 data center.”

The Roanoke Times reported last month that another Virginia locality — Montgomery County — is in the running for a large-scale data center that would bring 50 to 100 direct jobs to the region if it materializes. Officials told the Roanoke newspaper that total job creation would likely be higher as other high-tech companies clustered their smaller operations around the facility.

The Times report, dated May 5, stated that other communities are also vying for the mystery project, although it did not indicate if competition was coming from other Virginia communities. The report also noted the intense competition for data centers, which generally pay high wages and provide a major boost to a local tax base.

This year, the General Assembly enacted legislation to boost Virginia’s incentives for data center construction. The sweetened package includes a 10-year exemption from retail and use taxes for the purchase or lease of computer equipment and backup generators. To qualify, a company must invest $150 million and create 50 jobs at 150 percent of the locality’s prevailing wage.

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