The blades of the nine shovels lined up behind Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe gleamed in the mid-afternoon sun despite being partially buried in mounds of chalk-gray dirt.
“I want to thank all of you for being here today, and I appreciate the great work you’ve done to build this great economy we have today,” McAuliffe said as he stood at a podium and addressed a crowd gathered under a large white tent erected in the middle of a construction site across the street from Redskins Park in Ashburn.
McAuliffe, along with other local politicians such as Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-10th District) and Loudoun County Board of Supervisors Chairman Scott York, traveled to Northern Virginia on Oct. 15 to mark the ceremonial groundbreaking on a new campus for data center provider Equinix.
Founded in 1998, Equinix has more than 100 data centers in 33 markets on five continents, according to its website. The corporation uses its data centers, colocation, cloud and internet exchanges, and other services to help businesses connect with customers, employees and partners.
Though its headquarters are located in Redwood City, Ca., Equinix has 10 data centers in the Northern Virginia area with two in Vienna and eight in Ashburn, which has garnered the nickname “Data Center Alley” for boasting the world’s largest concentration of data centers.
Equinix will add five new data centers with the construction of its new North Ashburn Interconnected Business Exchange (IBX) facilities.
“The new data centers that we’re building, they’re kind of our next-generation, state-of-the-art facilities,” Jon Lin, Equinix’s vice-president of corporate development and strategy, said. “They’ll be more energy-efficient and flexible. They’ll be able to handle higher customer densities.”
Lin says that Equinix first acquired the land for its new campus three years ago but didn’t start developing a firm plan for the project until last year. The North Ashburn space is roughly 40 acres, giving the corporation 50 total acres in Ashburn when combined with the preexisting, 10-acre campus.
Partnerships with state and county officials as well as local economic developers have been crucial to giving Equinix such a strong foothold in Ashburn.
“We’ve been strong partners with the community in terms of investing in the area, making sure there are good, high-paying jobs that are going into the area,” Lin said. “It’s important for us to be able to continue that in the future.”
Comstock has been a particularly important ally to Equinix since she served in Virginia’s House of Delegates before being elected to Congress. She introduced H.B. 1699, a legislative bill intended to expand the state’s data center industry by offering tax incentives, in 2013.
“They’re a great part of the ecosystem that we have here in supporting our technology industry, big data, our health IT, genomic research, all of the things going on in our economy that makes us such an attractive place to bring 21st-century jobs,” Comstock said.
Several speakers at the groundbreaking ceremony thanked McAuliffe for emphasizing initiatives that encourage business to invest in Virginia throughout his administration.
Announcing that the state’s September revenue numbers were up 9.7 percent over last year’s numbers, McAuliffe said that Virginia has brought in almost $8 billion in new capital with 477 economic development projects over the past 18 months.
Virginia Secretary of Commerce and Trade Maurice Jones noted that, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics most recent data, Virginia has a 4.5 percent unemployment rate, the lowest in the southeastern U.S.
McAuliffe says that encouraging companies like Equinix to invest and stay in Virginia is part of his plan to build a “new” economy for the state, one that’s conscious of modern technology and global in its reach.
“When you have data centers this size, it brings in a lot of cybersecurity-related, big data-related companies,” McAuliffe said. “Being able to announce the expansion and doubling of this large data center is a great opportunity for us to bring in new businesses from all over the globe.”
The Ashburn Data Center
Although the Virginia governor was in Ashburn to commemorate Equinix’s new campus, he also discussed his decision to sign an executive order prohibiting guns in state office buildings, and he reiterated his support for the Virginia Department of Transportation’s I-66 plans.
McAuliffe signed Executive Order 50 the morning of Oct. 15. In addition to banning the open carry of firearms in most state buildings, the executive order established a task force aimed at more doggedly prosecuting gun cases and a tip line for reporting gun crimes.
“My job as governor is to keep people safe, and I’ve just had it with the inaction on guns,” McAuliffe said. “It’s time that we have comprehensive, safe, common-sense gun restrictions.”
Though he has previously been unable to get gun control laws passed through the Republican-controlled Virginia General Assembly, McAuliffe says that he plans to reintroduce legislation that expands background checks and prevents people convicted of domestic abuse or stalking from owning firearms.
The governor also sought to clarify “confusion” about proposed changes to Interstate 66 between Haymarket and the Beltway.
McAuliffe said that, with VDOT’s plan, the only difference will be that single drivers can pay a toll to get on I-66 during rush hour and that the only individuals this will affect are those driving illegally on I-66 during HOV times. He estimated that this change will move 40,000 more vehicles.
“We’re trying to come up with common-sense solutions,” McAuliffe said. “I would say to the Republicans who are whining and complaining, what is your plan? I’m putting forth a plan to help congestion…It does not affect anyone that’s not on it today.”
However, Comstock, a member of Congress’s transportation and infrastructure committee, said that she supported Virginia state legislators who oppose the project, particularly since High Occupancy Toll (HOT) lane tolls could add up to $17 round-trip, according to VDOT estimates reported by The Washington Post.
“We have to find a solution from the ground-up,” Comstock said, noting that the House is currently working on a six-year transportation bill to fund infrastructure needs around the country. “$17 tolls will just not work for the community, so we need to listen to our constituents, and that’s what my colleagues in the state house are doing.”