Data Centers Beyond The Building

By Buddy Rizer, CEcD, Executive Director of Economic Development, Loudoun County, Virginia

Why Loudoun loves data centers and your community should too

Published in Issue 4 | July 31, 2020

When you travel around Loudoun County, Virginia, it’s easy to see “data centers.” We have 18 million square feet of data centers in operation with millions more square feet on the way. After more than a dozen years of working with the industry on making “Data Center Alley” into the largest concentration of digital infrastructure in the world, I’m surprised that so much of the conversation is still around “buildings.” When I think about data centers in Loudoun, I don’t think about buildings, servers, fiber, reclaimed water or even the thousands of people who work in and around the industry (many of whom have become friends).

When I think about data centers in Loudoun, I think about transformation. Never has that been more apparent than during the COVID-19 pandemic when the Internet and data centers became the vehicle through which we communicated with friends and family, did business and educated our children. Zoom, WebEx, GoToMeeting, FaceTime, Houseparty and the likes became integral to our daily lives. Community leaders used the Internet to hold meetings and communicate with their constituents. Online video, webinars and podcasts became the way we communicated and tracked the latest information on the crisis. If there was any question about data centers as essential infrastructure, it was answered with the coronavirus.

When I think about data centers in Loudoun, I think about the way one industry, our industry, has transformed our community and our economy. It’s easy to forget now, with all of our success and the millions (soon to be billions) of dollars in tax revenue, but when I arrived in Loudoun 13 years ago, the County was in a much different place. The world economy was in the grips of the Great Recession. Loudoun’s population was growing by tens of thousands of people each year. There was tremendous pressure on our roads, schools and community services to keep up with the growth.

In 2007, only 19 percent of our tax base came from commercial businesses. That means that 81 percent of our tax base was on the backs of homeowners who were seeing the values in their homes dropping almost daily. That’s why we made the strategic decision to go all-in on attracting data centers to Loudoun. It was the perfect business model for us: high investment with low impact on public services. We had the land, the fiber, the water and a group of very talented technologists. Someone just had to bring all of the pieces together and be the champion that the industry deserves.

(To be clear, if I told you I thought it would turn out like it has, I’d be lying. I’m not sure anyone could have seen us becoming the largest and fasting growing data center market in the world.)

Now, a dozen years later, the commercial tax base has tripled and the share of the total tax revenue that is coming from commercial taxpayers has almost doubled, rising to over 36% of overall taxes received in the county. That has created $1.2 billion dollars in road improvements, a dozen new schools, hundreds of new county employees to meet the citizenry’s service needs, all while reducing the tax rate by 21% in the last 10 years.