An Introduction by John Vithoulkas
Thank you for your interest in Henrico County. Our vibrant community is blessed in many ways, with a strategic location in the Mid-Atlantic region, a thriving economy, engaged businesses and residents and a responsive, industry-friendly government led by our Board of Supervisors. As a local government, we strive to approach every decision and challenge with a sense of purpose and a view for the long-term well-being of our community. As I told attendees at the QTS Richmond Network Access Point (NAP) Summit, Henrico has a longstanding reputation for fiscal conservativism, as reflected in our triple-AAA bond ratings.
We maintain lean budgets, low taxes and an efficient workforce that is focused on customer service. Even with this measured approach to governance, our leaders are unafraid to make bold moves when an opportunity arises, particularly in the realm of economic development. Quite frankly, Henrico would not be on the global map for data centers if not for strategic decisions made by county leaders decades ago. For example, the county invested $44 million in the mid-1990s to establish the White Oak Technology Park. This 2,270-acre high-tech center initially served the semiconductor industry but is now positioned to become a major hub for data centers. White Oak Technology Park has everything companies need to reach customers throughout the world, including low-cost, development-ready land, water and sewer, power and the fastest internet in the world.
You have played a vital role in putting Henrico County on the global map for data centers. Now with the subsea cables accessible from Henrico County, what is the importance of this crucial Internet infrastructure to Henrico?
The NAP is an absolute game-changer for Henrico. With access to the fastest subsea cables in the world, it puts Henrico County and Central Virginia on the map with the 10 other U.S. major interconnection hubs.
This new mid-Atlantic connectivity offers Virginia’s businesses the ability to access worldwide networks without necessarily requiring routing through the busy New York, Ashburn, and Miami NAPs. Speed translates to more views, transactions, customers and revenues for domestic and international enterprises.
As the volume of data grows, Henrico offers a mid-Atlantic location that provides the access to the large East Coast population that new businesses aspire to capture. Taking advantage of the QTS Richmond NAP’s connectivity, these companies will thrive. Henrico County will also provide them with an attentive, business-friendly local government, a diverse economy, a skilled workforce and ample, affordable sites and buildings from which to select.
We saw an opportunity to support the data center industry’s needs three years ago, when we learned the MAREA and BRUSA cables would be connecting in Virginia Beach. White Oak Technology Park is located about 100 miles inland from Virginia Beach, and about 100 miles south of the data-center hub of Ashburn in Northern Virginia.
Our Economic Development Authority thought Henrico had the location and other attributes needed to attract data centers. QTS had already put Henrico on the map, retrofitting buildings that had been home to the Qimonda semiconductor plant. In 2016, we began working with Facebook to offer Henrico as a home for its hyperscale data center campus.
We also assessed our competitiveness and adjusted our tax-rate structure to recognize industry needs. In 2017, the Board of Supervisors reduced the tax rate on data center equipment by nearly 90%, from $3.50 to $0.40 per $100 of value. The county also sponsored state legislation to enable a locality to create a special, accelerated depreciation schedule specifically for data center equipment. Facebook’s $1.5 billion data center campus is under construction and scheduled to begin operations in 2020.
The past few years have truly been a whirlwind, and we could not be happier with the relationships we have built and the opportunities we see for future growth.
How do you anticipate these large investments benefitting the county and overall the region? Can you share some of the upcoming investments being made in Henrico?
The capital investments and jobs provided by companies like QTS and Facebook will enhance the economy and quality of life in Henrico County and the Richmond region for decades to come.
At full operation, we anticipate that Facebook alone will contribute a recurring annual $170 million in economic output and wages into the Richmond MSA’s economy. The economic development generated by these and other businesses provides fuel for our growth. They support our efforts to provide world-class schools, safe neighborhoods, and other public facilities and services.
Henrico is currently implementing about two dozen public facility projects – everything from school renovations and additions to parks, fire stations and a library – that voters approved through a $420 million bond referendum in 2016. This week, we broke ground on an indoor swimming facility that is being built in partnership with the YMCA to expand community access to pools and to make Henrico “drown proof.” These kinds of investments in public facilities would not be possible without Henrico’s robust economic-development program.
As you look ahead, are we at the beginning of a trend of infrastructure in Henrico County? How do you plan to partner closely with the private sector and harness the benefits of public/private partnership?
With the NAP, Henrico can offer companies instantaneous digital connectivity to customers throughout the world. These cables truly do represent the information superhighway of the 21st century. Their value and potential impact cannot be overstated. We anticipate a steady rate of growth in infrastructure improvements in utilities and roads and anticipate that the terrestrial fiber network will continue to grow and provide greater connectivity for their customers.
One of the most rewarding aspects of working in local government is finding ways to address community needs as they evolve. When Henrico leaders cut the ribbon on White Oak Technology Park in 1994, no one could have imagined the kind of business activity and potential that we see there today.
Henrico’s entire team has embraced the opportunity to work in partnership with the private sector to position the county to be a global hub for data centers. We have been successful because we have listened to industry needs and focused on building relationships. These kinds of interpersonal connections will continue to be essential, even as digital technology expands our world.
How do you see the future of Henrico County changing with the presence of the NAP?
Beginning in the 1960s, much of Henrico’s growth was driven by the development of the interstate highway system. In a similar way, the NAP has the potential to bring revolutionary change.
On a local level, White Oak Technology Park should attract more data centers and other investments to boost Henrico and the region. I believe that the IT industry, which is already strong in our region, will gather more momentum around the connectivity and seize opportunities for new products and services to support a growing business community. Companies will gain value in using the more efficient routing through Henrico to other interconnected networks, and this will drive businesses to locate here. Looking more broadly, I also hope we will seize opportunities to extend the benefits of global connectivity to all segments of our community.