Hedge Funds Rejoice: Massive Data Center May Domicile In Palm Beach County

Hedge funds rejoice!  A massive data center may soon make its home in Palm Beach County. Data is what runs the modern financial markets.   Hedge funds, in particular, tend to cluster around data centers for speed and order transmitting efficiency. The following article from the Sun Sentinel explains…..


By Skylar Swisher

republished from the Sun Sentinel

Data centers house rows of computer systems that store everything from Netflix videos to financial information. One expert calls the centers the “brain of the digital economy,” and the project’s supporters say it would serve as a powerful economic catalyst if it came to fruition.

Florida is competing against other states — many of which have passed specialized incentives targeting data centers, said Ernie Cox, the project’s manager.

“I’d like to say it’s a done deal, but we are very much in a competitive process,” Cox said. “We’ve got to put all these pieces together to get them here.”

data center

The data center would generate 300 to 400 high-paying jobs, Cox said. He expects the developer, whose identity isn’t being disclosed, will decide where to build in April or May and then break ground sometime later this year.

The Palm Beach County Commission gave preliminary approval in January to changing the land use for 138 acres where the center would located. The site is on Southern Boulevard near Florida Power & Light’s natural gas plant. The land is owned by PBA Holdings, formerly known as Palm Beach Aggregates, which Cox represents.

“We may not be able to guarantee the jobs, but by not approving it, we can guarantee there won’t be jobs,” County Commissioner Steven Abrams said.

The area is past the commission’s western limit for development, which has sparked concerns from environmentalists.

Meanwhile, state lawmakers are considering expanding tax incentives to the data center industry, which Cox says would be vital toward recruiting the center to Florida.

Hurricanes are one of the biggest concerns developers of data centers have about building in Florida, Timothy Comerford, senior vice president with the consulting firm Biggins Lacy Shapiro & Co., told state lawmakers.

The centers must never lose power to ensure information can be accessed, he said.

Most large data centers are concentrated in northern Virginia, New Jersey and Silicon Valley in California, Comerford said.

But despite the hurricane threat, Florida offers a variety of advantages to developers, including large metropolitan markets and excellent fiber optics infrastructure, that could allow it to become a player in the growing industry, he said.

The Palm Beach County site is lucrative because it is next to a power plant, Cox said. Data centers consume massive amounts of electricity to power and cool their servers.

A 100,000 square foot data center typically would consume 20 megawatts, enough electricity to power 20,000 homes, said Crystal Stiles, manager of economic development for FPL. Her office has the authority to negotiate lower utility rates for projects that benefit the economy.

About 80 data centers are operating in Florida, including about 25 in South Florida, Stiles said, and most are smaller centers. One exception is the NAP of the Americas in downtown Miami, which is one of the largest data centers in the world with more than 750,000 square feet of space. That center serves as an important transmission point for Latin and South America.

The Palm Beach County property is just west of the L-8 canal, which county commissioners made the western boundary for development in 2004.

Crossing this “line in the sand” could open up thousands of acres in western Palm Beach County that serve as an important buffer between the suburbs and the Everglades to development, Drew Martin, conservation chairman of the Loxahatchee Group of the Sierra Club, told commissioners.

Palm Beach County Commissioner Melissa McKinlay, who represents the district where the data center would be built, says landing the project is a top priority.

“This is a clean energy, high-paying, job-producing industry that has the opportunity to diversity Palm Beach County‘s economy beyond tourism and construction,” McKinlay said.

The business community is watching, too.

Hedge funds and financial firms tend to cluster near data centers because the slightly faster Internet speed they provide can give them an edge, said Daniel Martell, CEO of the Economic Council of Palm Beach County.

Each time an Internet user watches a video or conducts an online banking transaction a data center is accessed, making them indispensible to the economy, said Ben Stewart, president of the Miami chapter of the Association for Data Center Management.

“It is the brain of the digital economy,” he said.