Data centers are basically “buildings where the Internet lives,” said MacAuley. “Compliance-driven companies—government, hospitals, financial institutions—use us as the data closet for their gear. They bring us their computer software and services and we store them in a secure facility. We offer more reliability and security than they have on-site.”
Reliability and security are two of the reasons MacAuley chose Lumpkin County. A data center requires access to electricity and a top of the line fiber network. and NGN is just that, MacAuley said, “top of the line.”
It also must be located in an area with a “low threat profile,” MacAuley said. “We look at natural disasters—earthquakes, flood, tornadoes—and civil unrest. You want to be in a rural area, not a major city. Lumpkin County is the ideal area from the climate to threats.”
Also ideal, MacAuley said, was the support he received “from the Governor on down, and especially on the local level. I was blown away. I didn’t see this anywhere else in the country.”
MacAuley worked with Lumpkin County Development Authority members and its Executive director Steve Gooch, Board of Commissioner Chairman Chris Dockery, Mayor Gary McCullough, Bruce Abraham with Connect North Georgia/NGN, the county planning department and others, and all were very helpful, he said.
Although the center will only bring 10 or 12 jobs to the community, it will provide a solid boost to the tax base. The initial investment will be $6.5 million. That is mostly in equipment, the layer the center provides “between the utility and the plug-in,” MacAuley said. “You know how when there’s a power surge your lights flicker? There will be no flicker for the company’s hooked up to us.”
MacAuley said his goal is to expand the data center with a total investment of $70-80 million in five years. He would like to see Lumpkin County become a second data hub, like Atlanta.
“That’s the Achilles heel. You only have one hub in the Southeast—Atlanta. And if that building becomes a smoking hole in the ground ... That will probably be our second phase, to be a critical network center to backup Atlanta.”
And while there is “not a ton of jobs,” he said, “they do pay well. The average job is six figures—$100-105,000 a year. But we expect a lot too. We need well educated people. That’s a concern about being in a rural area, but you have the college here.”
In addition, MacAuley said, data centers have what he calls “a fly paper effect.” Having a data center can start a “tech boom, like Austin, where Apple, IBM and other rock stars moved to town.”
A data center can also attract other enterprises, such as movie and TV studios, the gaming industry, Cloud computing companies software and network startups, he said.
“You know that old saying, ‘If you build it, they will come,’” Gooch said.
The data center will be located in the Lumpkin County Industrial Park on Ethan Allen Drive. MacAuley said he expects to break ground on the project by the end of the month.