April 11, 2011

State of Alabama
Press Release: Alabama Department of Commerce

Study Establishes JeffMet Lakeshore's Capacity As Data Center

April 10, 2011
JeffMet Lakeshore is getting plenty of fiber these days, and that should keep it in the hunt as economic developers seek to lure multimillion-dollar data centers to the Birmingham industrial park.

A new independent study shows seven of the nine fiber optic communications carriers in and near the industrial park already service the park, whose full name is Jefferson Metropolitan Park Lakeshore. The study shows it's feasible for the other two carriers to extend service to the park should they or a company desire it.

"We now have more information on what is more of a hidden asset that we can share with prospects," said Carma Jude, executive director of the Jefferson Economic and Industrial Development Authority, which markets and sales sites at JeffMet Lakeshore. "Other cities we compete against are able to show their sites have multiple fiber options, and it's a big plus for us that we can do the same."

The authority hired Newton, Mass.-based NEF Inc. to conduct the fiber study for JeffMet Lakeshore.


Seven companies already serve Jefferson Metropolitan Park Lakeshore with fiber optics communication infrastructure that data centers require. Here is what they offer for those with technical know-how:

  • Access Fiber: dark fiber and wavelengths.
  • AT&T: T1, DS3, OC3-48, ethernet up to 10G.
  • Century Tel: T1, DS3, OC3-48.
  • Intellifiber/Paetec: T1, DS3, OC3-48, ethernet up to 10G, dark fiber.
  • Level 3: T1, DS3, OC3-48, ethernet up to 10G.
  • Time Warner Telecom: T1, DS3, OC3-48, ethernet up to 10G.
  • Verizon Business: T1, DS3, OC3-48, ethernet up to 10G.


  • Dark fiber: Optical fiber that has not been activated.
  • T1: A fiber optic line, found in many offices, that is thousands of times faster than a conventional modem.
  • DS3: Stands for Digital Signal 3 and sometimes called T3. Another type of superfast fiber optic line.
  • OC3-48: A network transmission line with dizzying speeds.
  • Ethernet: A kind of computer networking technology.
Source: JeffMet, Birmingham News research

Having that excess of fiber capacity is considered a key selling point when trying to attract data centers, which are notoriously limited by location and infrastructure requirements when it comes to choosing a site. Everything from distance from interstate highways and railroad tracks to the risk of earthquakes and other natural disasters figure prominently into the site selection process for data centers, often referred to as "mission critical facilities."

Companies in industries from banks to health care and utilities need data centers to ensure they can store and protect information -- whether required by law or company policy.

Doing so requires data centers with technology and equipment that can run into hundreds of millions of dollars.

Patrick Murphy, head of economic development for the Birmingham Business Alliance, said those millions are not just a one-time investment, but continue as new technology, upgrades and expansions are needed.

"Companies are investing millions more in the same data centers every three or four years," Murphy said. "When any company invests that kind of money in a facility, you can anticipate that company having a long-term presence in your community."

Murphy said the new fiber study for JeffMet Lakeshore has already made its way into the marketing of the park to a number of data centers looking for sites in the Southeast.

"There are several data centers considering our region that we are working to recruit," Murphy said. "All of them have been made aware of the attributes of JeffMet Lakeshore."

Four companies have already chosen JeffMet Lakeshore for their own data centers, investing more than $500 million and creating nearly 200 jobs.

The first project that led to the park being created was the $400 million Wells Fargo & Co. data center, which started as a Wachovia data center in 2006. Two years later, both Southern Co. and Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Alabama announced plans for data centers in the park, boosting the investment by a total of $77 million.

Earlier this year, Community Health Systems of Franklin, Tenn., purchased 4.5 acres and is building a $25 million data center in the park, creating 15 jobs.

More than 130 acres remain at JeffMet Lakeshore for data centers or other tenants.

Though data centers create relatively few jobs, experts say the investment is what makes them desirable economic development prospects.

Laith Wardi, president of Erie, Penn.-based Executive Pulse business retention and expansion consulting firm, said data center projects are big deals by themselves, but often just as important are the names they bring to a community and the potential for more business in the future.

"They're attractive because they do provide capacity and they signal to anybody who is looking that you're making an investment in technology," he said. "If Google or Dell or whoever is willing to put a data center in my community, I'm going to take that investment. It can still help raise the watermark of my community by this idea of bringing in this technology and I have a very large physical presence of a company that is typically going to be very relevant in the future."

As with any other existing industry, Wardi said the way a community treats a company's data center could lead to more things in the future.

"This is step one. In step two, that company may say, 'You know, we have our data center there. Those folks have been extremely responsive to us. Let's continue to make investment there,'" Wardi said. "You guys have seen that with the automotive industry with a company dipping its toes in initially and then following it up with very aggressive expansion and investment."

Wardi said attributes like fiber capacity will become a requirement for more than just data centers in the future.

"Progressive companies, globally competitive companies today are those that know how to assimilate technology and really need technology capacity," he said. "In the '70s, '80s, '90s, companies looking at relocation were most concerned about water, sewer, available human capital or labor, access to key transportation arteries. Those things are still important, but today technology is really, in my estimation, the key determinant between the haves and have-nots."

Having a fiber study puts JeffMet Lakeshore and Birmingham out in front of other communities that haven't done such an assessment, Wardi said.

"As a community when you're able to say, 'Look at our capacity related to your technology needs,' that puts you ahead of the pack," he said.

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