This story was updated April 9, 2018, at 10:51 p.m. with more information.
BRIDGEPORT, Ala. — Nearly three years after Google first announced plans to build a data center in Alabama, the search engine giant said Monday it expects to finish the first phase of the $600 million project on a portion of what was once one of TVA's biggest coal plants.
The Google complex, which is expected to employ from 75 to 100 people there once in full operation, was heralded by Alabama officials Monday for turning an economic hardship to a potential economic windfall.
Bridgeport Mayor David Hughes said Google's decision to locate in Jackson County should transform the Bridgeport area.
"Having Google in our area will usher in a new era for our community," Hughes said. "Ultimately, Google will help us recruit other high-tech companies to our area."
Google bolstered Hughes' optimism Monday by announcing a $100,000 grant to the Jackson County school district to enhance local science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) programs.
"This is the best part of my job," Google Site Leader Brenda Standridge said as STEM students appeared with Google and state officials in a make-shift stage overlooking the construction site where work is underway for the data center.
Google is building its newest data center — only the eighth in the United States and the 14th worldwide for the search engine giant — on 360 acres of the 2,000-acre site of the shuttered Widows Creek Fossil Plant.
The former TVA plant shut down in 2015 after generating coal-fired electricity for TVA for 63 years. At its peak, Widows Creek employed more than 500 employees and provided hundreds of other support jobs in the region.
Among those who once worked for TVA at Widows Creek was the father of the head of Google's head of global alliances, Nan Boden, who returned to Alabama Monday for the groundbreaking of the new data center. Dr. Boden, a graduate of the University of Alabama who earned a Ph.D. at Cal Tech, previously was CEO of Mricom before joining Google five years ago.
"It's a momentous occasion for my family to be back in Alabama and to be able to talk about how Google can bring that same opportunity that I had for education and knowledge to families here in Jackson County by investing in this center and our children and all that they can become," Boden said.
Google has an option for more of the abandoned Widows Creek plant, which TVA is continuing to disassemble and clean up. Standridge said the extra land might be used for future expansions.
Google was attracted to the site on the Tennessee River because of the availability of land, water, labor and clean renewable energy. TVA can use some of the existing power lines for the data center's electricity demand and has pledged to provide Google renewable solar, wind or hydro-generated power to comply with Google's desire to use 100 percent clean energy.
"Data centers like this are the engines of the Internet and deliver key tools and resources to our users, including search results, YouTube videos, Gmail and other apps and data links all around the world," Standridge said.
Data process centers handle as many as 100 billion searches for Google every month and 500 hours of video uploads to YouTube every minute. Google says its data centers use 50 percent less energy than other comparable data centers.
"Billions of people use Google to search for something and I'm sure glad that when Google started searching they found us in Alabama," Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said during Monday's ceremony. "This commitment by this fine company will not just grow this business; it will help grow this community. Today's announcement, along with our previous big announcement that unemployment is at its lowest rate ever in our history (at 3.5 percent), shows that what we are doing and the way we are doing it is working in Alabama."
Google is building its Bridgeport facility — and another similar data center on another former TVA site in Clarksville, Tenn. — to help meet growing demand in the Southeast for cloud-based services, searches and video streaming.
Although Google won't initially be a major employer in Jackson County, state and local officials said they hope to decision by Google to locate in Northeast Alabama will spur other technology companies to consider the area.
"Google could have chosen any place in the world, but they choose Bridgeport in Jackson County in the Tennessee Valley in Alabama," said U.S. Rep. Mo Brooks, R-Ala. "Hopefully, Google and those who see what Google has done will bring many more high skilled, high-paying jobs to this region."
Contact Dave Flessner at email@example.com or at 757-6340.