Growth on the Horizon

When Plans and Patience Pay Off

By James Fenton, Executive Director, Gallatin Economic Development Agency

Growth-2.jpeg

Growth-1-(1).jpeg

Mayor Paige Brown (far left) and Gallatin EDA Executive Director James Fenton (far right) welcome Dominic Wade and his family to Gallatin during the groundbreaking of Wade’s company, D&S Industries, which produces high-tech, proprietary material for NASA, as well as the medical and automotive industries. Image Credit: Richard Suter Photography

It’s not unusual to spend a lot of time working with a company considering Gallatin for a new business or expansion. The Gallatin Economic Development Agency (EDA) knows it can take a year or two from first contact to grand-opening day. But the Gallatin EDA had never experienced a three-year engagement until meeting Project Woolhawk – a Facebook data center project.

Facebook is injecting $800 million in capital expenditures into a new data center in Gallatin’s Industrial Center. When the first facility opens its doors, it will bring about 100 high-tech, high-paying jobs. Right now, during construction, there are approximately 1,200 people working on the site including the buildings, electrical infrastructure, and even naturescapes for part of the property.

But let’s back up to August, 2017. That’s when Gallatin first received a Request for Information (RFI) about a Fortune 100 company looking to build a data center. They required a large land parcel, abundant water, and renewable energy sources. Their code name was Woolhawk. While there was certainly lots of guessing over the next three years about the company behind Woolhawk, they did not confirm their identity until one month before the announcement that they had chosen Gallatin.

Also, in 2017, the Gallatin EDA and its Board of Directors committed to a strategic plan to pursue high-tech, high-paying jobs for our city in numbers that would not squeeze our existing industries – the backbone of our economic success. Our manufacturers and distributors, along with the intense component of healthcare and education jobs in our community, give us a diverse tax base that does better than most surviving a recession and the pandemic.

Adding Facebook as an employer in Gallatin not only widens that diverse tax base, it also puts a spotlight on our success as a city and this region.

Gallatin and its leaders have been proactive for more than two decades about economic development and required infrastructure. Gallatin Public Utilities expanded water and sewer capacity several years ago which gives us 100% more capacity. Gallatin Electric is the fastest growing electric company in the TVA region with among the lowest rates. We have extra capacity in natural gas. The City, in partnership with TDOT and the Federal Highway Administration, has built new roads and widened others to meet current and projected demand. And we have done all this while keeping the property tax rate either the same or lowering it.

All of this proactive work helped make Gallatin one of Facebook’s final sites for a data center in Tennessee. On top of all the nuts and bolts of their needs, they also loved the community. They loved Gallatin’s grit as a nearly 220-year-old city. They loved Gallatin’s grace and how warm and open the people are. They loved all those things about Gallatin that you can’t plug into a spreadsheet or put on a chart.

While our work was ongoing with Facebook, the Gallatin EDA had two other high-tech companies expressing interest. Both decided to locate in Gallatin. One is Archer Datacenters, a co-location facility injecting an eventual $100 million in capital expenditures into the community. The other is D&S Industries, a multimillion-dollar project, which makes proprietary, high-tech fabric for NASA, as well as medical, automotive, and other aerospace industries.

During the three years of working on the Facebook project, there were plenty of challenges and long silences. Was this going to work or not? With every challenge, there were great accomplishments. And, it took a true team of Gallatin staff, city departments, agencies of the State of Tennessee, TVA, and even the University of Tennessee’s Board of Trustees.

But we got it done. Our plans and patience paid off. Nearly three years to the date, Facebook formally announced it was coming to Gallatin. Welcome Facebook!