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The Culpeper Tech Zone: Creating an Ecosystem of Innovation

March 28, 2024

Culpeper Tech Zone
This blog is one in a series of articles spotlighting Culpeper’s creation of the Culpeper Technology Zone (CTZ). The CTZ is a 690-acre campus designated to host data centers, public works entities, and educational institutions supporting the county’s STEM initiatives.

Data centers are vital components of our ever-expanding digital world. Within their expansive facilities, rows of servers form the backbone of public digital infrastructure, enabling users worldwide to access file sharing, cloud applications, video streaming, and other online tools. On the enterprise side, data centers facilitate the operations used by government agencies, healthcare institutions, businesses, and other commercial sectors to support programs and applications that drive progress and spur economic growth. The prolific need for digital resources in both arenas has made data centers essential to the flow of commerce and society at large. This indispensable need for digital connectivity has created a reciprocal need for expanded storage.

Northern Virginia has become a nucleus for this technology, holding the world’s highest concentration of data centers. Natural advantages, such as proximity to Washington, D.C., have allowed the region to capitalize on the boom for data storage.

Creating the Culpeper Tech Zone

Culpeper, Virginia, aimed to leverage the area’s distinction in the field by tapping into this lucrative market. By allowing data centers into the region, the county sought to further advance the science, technology, engineering, and manufacturing (STEM) industries at the forefront of Culpeper’s economy. With a few existing data centers already in place, including Equinix, which came to Culpeper in 2008, the area had definitive proof that it would be viable for additional centers.

In 2021, Culpeper County Economic Development (CCED) crafted a plan to invite data centers into the county while limiting sprawl to safeguard the area’s landscapes and residential appeal. The county had already established five different incentivized technology zones dedicated to these companies. As the Culpeper County Board of Supervisors learned more about the power and fiber resources needed to support the highly-engineered data centers, they realized that by consolidating the five zones into one they could focus resources required for the facilities without expanding power lines across the county.

A single 690-acre stretch of land near the Germanna and James Madison Highways will host Culpeper’s incoming data centers. Named the Culpeper Tech Zone (CTZ), the consolidated location has three primary advantages: it streamlines power needs; it leverages the existing infrastructure of the area designated for the CTZ; and it centralizes all data center operations to one location, signaling CCED’s intent to limit expansion beyond this zone for future centers.

Aerial view of the Culpeper Technology Zone

Aerial view of a portion of the Culpeper Tech Zone

Bringing in Business: Welcoming Data Centers to Culpeper

Culpeper actively started recruiting developers and received an astounding response from data centers looking to establish themselves in the CTZ. Bryan Rothamel, CEcD, and director of CCED, remarks, “We wanted to focus on the quality of our partnerships, not quantity.” Five developers committed to the cause: Cielo Digital Infrastructure; CloudHQ; Copper Ridge; DataBank; and Peterson Companies. According to Rothamel, each company understood the county’s community approach and was eager to join Culpeper.

“We tried to get partners who were actively engaged in getting to know Culpeper and how their business could play a role in our community development beyond just operating here,” shares Rothamel. “Our partners ‘get’ Culpeper and what we’re trying to accomplish here.”

DataBank logo“Culpeper has approached bringing in data centers innovatively,” shares Justin Puccio, executive vice president of corporate strategy for DataBank. “DataBank anticipated enterprise and AI workload demand migrating to this region, and Culpeper is uniquely suited to support the network and power requirements. Culpepper made a smooth runway to welcome us.”

Each business has secured parcels of land inside the zone and are in various stages of early development, including filing site plans with how many data centers they will build on their lots. More established tech companies can easily demand enough space for an entire data center building, whereas smaller entities may only need a few server rows within one facility.

CloudHQ logo“A lot of these facilities do something different,” shares Brett Burnette, director of development for CloudHQ. “One facility might be solely for government cloud storage. You may have another facility that is wholly dedicated to artificial intelligence (AI) machine learning so that when you type a question into an AI engine, you get something useful back. They are not all the same, but fundamentally, they store and process some sort of data.”

Looking Ahead

As plans progress, CCED is developing partnerships with the Culpeper Technology Education Center (CTEC) and Germanna Community College to create opportunities for high school and college students entering the information technology field and other trades industries to interact with the data centers in a workforce development capacity.

Construction is anticipated to begin in the next two to three years and is projected to complete in the 2030s. “Now, we’re preparing for this large effort and finding vendors in Culpeper that can support the construction to keep all pieces of the effort local,” notes Rothamel. As development continues, so does the building of partnerships between Culpeper, the data centers, and the community at large.
Culpeper Tech Zone