Editorial – Go all out for data centers

Published 5:47 pm Friday, June 23, 2023

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Some news from far western Virginia caught our eye, reminding us of a challenge we issued in this space a few months back.

The Bristol Herald-Courier reports that elected boards in five localities — the counties of Lee, Scott, Wise and Dickenson, plus Norton City Council — passed resolutions of support for efforts to attract data centers to the region.

Western Tidewater, with Suffolk leading the charge, should make a similar push as an economic development and land-use alternative to warehouses and solar farms, which are proliferating.

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Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced in January that Amazon Web Services would invest $35 billion to build multiple data centers in Virginia by 2040. Northern Virginia, which has been a hotbed for data center construction, apparently has more of them than it wants, so other regions of the state stand to capitalize on the opportunity.

Aside from the economic impact of new jobs and much-needed tax revenue for local governments, landing one of the Amazon facilities would demonstrate to citizens of Western Tidewater that elected and appointed leadership has a vision beyond warehouses, which bring some tax revenue but relatively few jobs — and create major highway congestion as 18-wheelers roll in and out.

Data centers, the Herald-Courier notes, serve as critical infrastructure for the storage, processing and distribution of vast amounts of information. 

To be clear, data centers alone aren’t the answer economically for our region. Like warehouses, they don’t employ huge numbers of people and they aren’t the most pleasant structures aesthetically. But, other than the electrical grid, they are light burdens on infrastructure, especially roads. 

Youngkin said in January that “numerous localities” in the commonwealth are under consideration by Amazon, which will create a combined 1,000 new jobs. 

Communities under consideration “offer robust utility infrastructure, lower costs, great livability and highly educated workforces and will benefit from the associated economic development and increased tax base, assisting the schools and providing services to the community,” he said.

Southwest Virginia, in the localities’ resolution, touts its competitive workforce, robust infrastructure and a favorable business climate that make it an ideal location for data centers seeking to expand or establish operations.

Suffolk and Western Tidewater can make a similarly persuasive case.