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IDA to improve data center site

The Prince Edward County Industrial Development Authority (IDA) voted unanimously Friday, March 26, to move forward with Timmons Group on the next step to take the county’s potential data center site to Tier 3 in a state-recognized four-tier system of readiness for prospects.

Heartland Innovative Technology (HIT) Park is the name of the county’s $1.5 million, 280-plus-acre site off Persimmon Tree Fork Road that was purchased in May 2020 for the purpose of attracting data center operations.

Joe Hines

Joe Hines, with the Timmons Group, said usually after a presidential election, prospect activity is fairly busy, but perhaps due to the COVID-19 pandemic and the change to a new president, the level of business lately has risen to an even higher level.

“The last 60 days, prospect activity has been the highest I’ve ever seen it in my 30-year career,” he said, noting that more than $6 billion worth of projects and more than 8,000 jobs have risen to the surface.

Hines also offered an explanation of the significance of the tier system and moving the HIT Park to Tier 3 from its current status at Tier 2. The cost for making the improvements was estimated at $189,000.

Prince Edward County Administrator Doug Stanley asked Hines if there was any Virginia Economic Development Partnership money available to assist localities in trying to upgrade the status of their sites.

Hines mentioned $5 million going toward the Virginia Business Ready Sites Program, though he said it is very competitive to get it.

“In 2019, the state did an evaluation of 468 sites across Virginia, all 25-plus acres, and they evaluated them on the tier system, which has been codified by the state,” he said. “The tier system is intended to be a system of readiness and a road map to get to what we consider prospect ready.

“Prospect ready, essentially, is a Tier 4 site, which means that you can build your utilities and infrastructure simultaneously with the facility coming out of the ground, so that means generally delivering within 12 months or less,” he said.

Hines explained that a Tier 3 site is checking all the boxes on all the due diligence required.

“That’s basically making sure you have a topographical survey, environmental work, geotechnical due diligence, a number of items which we’ve done, a number of items we still have left to do,” he said. “It includes the detailed planning and preliminary engineering reports in terms of where are we going to bring water from? How are we going to provide sewer to the site? All those elements need to be solved and identified and quantified to be a Tier 3 site.

“Then once we determine what our water solutions are or let’s say we move with the Sandy River Reservoir as being the main water supply for the site, we would have to complete an engineering design and construction plans such that we can construct that water line within 12 months or less to be attractive to a prospect.”

He said the tier system is intended to be the logical steps for development for an economic development site across the board.

“Once you get a Tier 3, it’s on (the state’s) radar scope, and then that gets you eligible to apply for funding sources to essentially help pay for the development of the park as well too,” he said. “GO Virginia is funding projects as well as Virginia Business Ready Sites Program based upon taking steps up that tier system of readiness.”