Project Haystack Eyes Farmland for Data Center Real Estate

Guildford County, N.C. officials, in conjunction with the economic development initiative Project Haystack are considering utilizing a local prison farm as potential data center real estate.

The site in question, Guilford County Prison Farm, was opened in 1935 and sits on 806 acres of land, according to the Guilford County Sheriff's Office. Currently, the farm is utilized for 134 inmates who perform maintenance and upkeep.

"We've always held out hope that it would be an excellent site for a data center," said Dan Lynch, Greensboro Economic Development Alliance president.

According to the News and Record, Lynch suggested using the farm site to build a data center. The large land plot and isolated location make the area attractive for companies with an interest in a relatively remote facility still located in North Carolina. 

Furthermore, having a data center in the region could boost local tax revenues.

"They're not large job generators," Lynch said of data center facilities. "But they invest a lot of money in constantly upgrading servers and equipment, so they spin out a lot of tax revenue for the cities they locate in."

Although the potential data center real estate does not currently have easy access to water or sewer resources, Lynch said the site makes up for these shortcomings with easy access to power as the Duke Energy substation and large energy transmission site is under one mile from the farm.

Currently, Catawba County data centers represent the focal point of the North Carolina market. The remote prison farm site could present an attractive alternative location for companies seeking to build facilities in the state.

Local Concerns 
However, the discussions have been difficult on local residents who disagree with using the site, the state's only working prison farm, for the purpose of a data center. Local resident Anne Kearns Hice said the farm should not be sold to build a facility of this kind, especially without formally notifying the public.

"It is a jewel," Hice said. "We don't have any farms, hardly, in Guilford county that are 800-some acres. It's something we cannot replace."

Additionally, Guilford County Sheriff BJ Barnes, who currently presides over the farm, said although he has been preparing for site development, it makes the daily operations of the prison difficult. Barnes said 70 percent of the farm is currently being utilized for prisoners, but he has been scaling back on space utilization in anticipation of development.

However, Guilford County Commissioner Linda Shaw said she hopes infrastructure is put in place despite what may occur with the prison farm site.

"It's hard to find a big 800 acres of land anywhere," Shaw said. "We're not trying to hurt anybody, we're just trying to bring jobs in here and help us bring down the property tax rate."

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