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How Google’s Search Ended in Alabama

It should come as no surprise that when Google searched the world for the best place to do business, it landed on Alabama. After all, Alabama is no stranger to large corporations with global operations and top brand names. Companies like Mercedes-Benz, Boeing, Airbus, Honda and Hyundai all have found a home in the state. So, Google’s search was relatively simple. All it had to do was Google “success.”

When Internet giant Google launched a search for the location for its newest data center, its team had identified several factors that would shape the decision: a large, secure parcel of land; close proximity to water; incentives; and the availability of renewable energy. Alabama was optimized for this opportunity.

At a remote site in Jackson County in Northeast Alabama, Google found all it needed.

After a recruitment effort led by the Alabama Department of Commerce, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) and the Jackson County Economic Development Authority, Google erected a $600 million data center on 350 acres in Bridgeport. “Project Spike,” as it was codenamed by the Alabama economic development team during the recruitment’s early stages, is providing around 100 well-paying jobs with highly technical skill sets, including computer technicians, system administrators, software technicians and engineers. These employees will work to keep Google Search, Gmail, YouTube, and a myriad of other Google applications operational for global users 24/7.

Repurposing Success

The Alabama data center is a part of Google’s long-term growth strategy, its 14th data center location worldwide. At the Jackson County site, Google will repurpose TVA’s decommissioned coal-fired Widows Creek Power Plant. And like nearly all of the tech giant’s other data centers, the facility in Bridgeport will be 100% powered by renewable energy — at no cost to efficiency. Google’s data centers today produce nearly 3.5 times the processing power from the same energy as they did with traditional energy sources in the past.

Patrick Gammons, Google’s senior manager of data center energy and location strategy, noted that the company can use Widows Creek’s many transmission lines to bring lots of renewable energy to power the new data center. Additionally, TVA agreed to help Google identify new renewable energy projects and bring the clean power to the electrical grid.

“We can repurpose existing infrastructure to make sure our data centers are reliably serving our users around the world.”

Patrick Gammons, Google’s senior manager of data center energy and location strategy

“We can repurpose existing infrastructure to make sure our data centers are reliably serving our users around the world.

“Data centers need a lot of infrastructure to run 24/7, and there’s a lot of potential in redeveloping large industrial sites like former coal power plants,” Gammons noted in a blog Google post.

“Decades of investment shouldn’t go to waste just because a site has closed; we can repurpose existing electric and other infrastructure to make sure our data centers are reliably serving our users around the world.”

Google’s Impact on Alabama

At the time of the announcement, Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said the initial phase of Project Spike could prompt follow-on investments down the road. The state began targeting data center projects in 2012 with the Data Processing Economic Incentive Act, which provides tiered tax abatements for up to 30 years.

“With the growing reliance on cloud computing projects to continue boosting the growth of data center operations, we think our relationship with Google will yield other opportunities in the future.”

Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce

“With the growing reliance on cloud computing projects to continue boosting the growth of data center operations, we think our relationship with Google will yield other opportunities in the future,” he said.

The partnership is already paying off for Alabama. In another blog post, Google says: “When we finish building our data center, we will launch a formal community grants program in Jackson County that will support organizations and initiatives that focus on three issues we’re passionate about: science and technology education, carbon reduction, and access to the Internet.”

According to calculations by the Alabama Department of Commerce, Google’s data center project will generate a significant economic impact — totaling $129 million over 20 years. Direct wages are projected to top $93.6 million over that time frame, according to Commerce.

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