Google to put $500M in data center in Tennessee


Google is planning to build a data center at the former TVA megasite once home to Hemlock Semiconductor in Clarksville.

The Mountain View, Calif.-based tech giant is negotiating to buy the property for the project, which would expand its footprint in the greater Nashville region.

Google plans to invest more than $500 million in the data center and create about 70 full-time jobs.

The Montgomery County Commission and the Clarksville-Montgomery County Industrial Development Board are set to vote on the land deal. With that approval, Google would then be able to sign a formal purchase agreement with the industrial development board, which holds the title to the property.

“Part of the positive economic impact is attracting other industries, creating more job potential,” said Jerry D. Plummer, an economics professor with Austin Peay State University in Clarksville. “Once Google sets one up, they will probably never shut it down.”

The Google data center would diminish bitterness in Clarksville from Hemlock shuttering its $1.2 billion polysilicon plant before it opened. County leaders had touted that operation, which was to initially employ 500, as a potential economic driver similar to the military base at Fort Campbell.

In abandoning that plant nearly a year ago, the Michigan-based Dow Corning subsidiary cited an oversupply of polysilicon — a base material needed for solar panels — and the threat of potential tariffs on its products sold into China.

Google could fill that void with an operation that continues its investment in creating data centers to power its services. The company’s plans for Clarksville come as its Google Fiber division is bringing its gigabit-speed Internet and TV service to Nashville.

The Clarksville location would be the tech giant’s 15th data center. It would be similar to one Google announced over the summer for part of a former TVA coal plant site near Bridgeport, Ala. Construction is expected to start next year on that $600 million Northeast Alabama project, which is expected to create up to 100 jobs initially.

The data centers power the Internet and are where information is stored and accessed by Google’s users. As more people use the Internet worldwide and more information is stored in the cloud, the company needs to expand its capacity.

“I would think their need for storage capacity for the cloud would be the driver for their need for more space,” said Ron Bailey, vice president of business development with The Greater Jackson County Chamber of Commerce in Scottsboro, Ala. “The more customers that they have that are using Google, the more it slows the system down.”

A Google spokesman declined to comment on plans for the Clarksville location or the timeline for getting a data center up and running.

The design phase can take six months to a year, with construction lasting another 18 months to two years.

Google doesn’t disclose compensation information, but officials in Jackson County, Ala., have said that the jobs planned at the data center in Bridgeport, near Chattanooga, are expected to pay $45,000 a year plus benefits.

Bailey said Google’s biggest labor need at that location is for technicians, who don’t necessarily require a college degree, and security jobs.

“One out of every 10 employees, their role would be for security,” he said. “The security of that data is going to be of utmost importance.”

In Lenoir, N.C., Google opened a data center eight years ago, sparking growth of the North Carolina Data Corridor along U.S. Highway 321.

That corridor now includes companies such as Apple, Facebook, American Express, Bed Bath & Beyond and Disney.

Google’s 220-plus acre data center site there has 250 employees, said Deborah Murray, executive director for the Caldwell County Economic Development Commission in Lenoir.

Data center companies typically look at a location’s availability, the price of electric power, water and sewer capacity, and the local climate, she said.

“If you’re in an area extremely hot or extremely cold, it will be reflected in your utility costs,” Murray said.

In Clarksville, the former Hemlock plant has an on-site substation among existing infrastructure. Access at the site to renewable energy from the Tennessee Valley Authority likely is appealing to Google, which has a goal of using 100 percent renewable energy at its data centers.

TVA and the state’s Department of Economic and Community Development are among agencies involved in discussions with Google.

That indicates that the tech giant could receive economic incentives for locating the data center in Clarksville.

“TVA has been and continues to be very supportive and excited about projects like this in the region, but as with all economic development projects respects the confidentiality of the process and the parties involved,” said John Bradley, senior vice president of economic development for that federal agency.

Business services including data and call centers are among industries targeted for job growth by both the state and Metro Nashville government.

More than 5,051 Tennesseans work in the data center sector at 386 establishments, and 10,700 work in nearly 200 telephone call centers statewide, according to the Department of Economic and Community Development.

With the help of TVA, 14 available primary data center site locations have been identified across Tennessee, according to the agency’s website.

Source: Knoxville News Sentinel, by Getahn Ward

The East Tennessee Economic Development Agency markets and recruits business for the 15 counties in the greater Knoxville-Oak Ridge region of East Tennessee. Visit

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