By Paul Leach


ATHENS, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Valley Authority has named the Athens/McMinn Interstate Industrial Park as one of 13 prime sites for data centers in the Southeast.

"We were delighted to be selected," said Jack Hammontree, executive vice president of the McMinn County Economic Development Authority.

Data centers are integral to financial transaction processors, Internet search engine companies and other technology businesses that require housing for computer, telecommunication and data storage systems.

"Demand for data centers is growing as increased use of electronic commerce and information technologies requires more data storage space," John Bradley, TVA senior vice president for economic development, said in a news release.

He said the utility selected sites that "have the resources, infrastructure and other qualities needed to support strong data center development."

TVA used Chicago-based Deloitte Consulting to measure each location's potential for available and reliable electrical power, telecommunications infrastructure and accessibility.

Hammontree said the development authority played a key role in the lengthy submission process, which took six to eight months to complete. He also acknowledged the "considerable contributions" from the Athens Utilities Board and the city and county governments.

Wayne Scarbrough, assistant general manager of the utilities board, said, "We were able to say 'yes' across the board to the required criteria set by the consulting firm."

In addition to satisfying power requirements, Scarbrough said the utility board has another great advantage to offer data centers: fiber optics. He said the board has ringed the city with a fiber-optic loop, and it would be pretty easy to connect it to a company in the Athens/McMinn Interstate Industrial Park.

"From a community standpoint, we have a pool of talent very ready to take advantage of the diversity" a data center would bring to the area, Scarbrough said.

Hammontree said Athens probably wouldn't receive an immediate response from potential business partners interested in locating a data center there. He said the exploration process takes considerable time and that the economy certainly affects decisions to invest in new facilities.

Other East Tennessee sites, including ones in Lenoir City, Maryville and Bristol, have been rated as data center-ready under the TVA program.

TVA spokeswoman Barbara Martocci said TVA is researching other possible data center locations in Chattanooga and the surrounding area.

Paul Leach is based in Cleveland. E-mail him at