Building Data Centers – And Maryland’s Future

Every morning before sunrise, thousands of Maryland residents – many of them members of my union, the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) – drive across the Potomac River into Virginia to work in that state’s thriving data center industry. 

Needless to say, these men and women would rather be working closer to home in our state.   

Thanks to Governor Wes Moore’s leadership, along with the Maryland General Assembly which overwhelmingly approved incentives for data center development in 2020, our state’s workers will soon get their wish.   

The proposed redevelopment of the shuttered Alcoa aluminum plant in Frederick County is first in line to take advantage of this opportunity.  This Smart Growth project, planned for one of the largest industrially zoned sites in Maryland, is similar in scope and impact to the Tradepoint Atlantic project on the former Bethlehem Steel site where IBEW members are building Maryland’s wind power industry.  It will bring new life and opportunity to a location so many of our members helped build in the 1970s and maintained for decades. 

Data center growth arrives at a critical time for education investment in Maryland, with the implementation of the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future reforms getting underway.  According to a recent Maryland Tech Council study, this one data center campus will provide hundreds of millions of dollars of state and local tax revenue annually – in addition to 48,000 jobs over 15 years of construction and almost 2,000 permanent jobs. Subsequent developments, strategically located throughout the state to enhance our critical broadband infrastructure, will generate even more economic growth. 

These jobs and revenue numbers are not theoretical.  The global center of the internet is located next door in Northern Virginia, handling a majority of the world’s internet traffic.  In Loudoun County alone, data centers account for approximately $750 million in local tax revenue.  After many years of construction, there remain 31,000 workers – largely union members – building new data centers.  More than 12,000 permanent employees report to work every day at data centers in Loudoun County.   

Not surprisingly, Loudoun County has America’s highest median income for jurisdictions larger than 65,000 people – which includes many IBEW members making six-figure salaries in blue collar jobs.  Its schools are well-funded and among America’s best, and revenue from data centers allowed Loudoun to cut property taxes by about a third – from $1.28 per $100 of assessed value to 87 cents per $100. 

Maryland has a strong advantage in entering the data center industry due to our ability to create high-speed fiber connections to this juggernaut.    

Our state also has the benefit of learning from the challenges that have arisen in Northern Virginia as the data center industry there experienced explosive growth without a pre-existing structure of rules and regulations. 

Frederick County Executive Jessica Fitzwater has taken the lead in establishing a Data Centers Workgroup, on which I am privileged to serve, to help her County establish rules for development before the first data center is built.  These efforts, in partnership with our state government, are creating a Maryland model for data center growth that will maximize jobs and tax revenue, while protecting our environment and communities. 

These are sustainable jobs for decades into our future.  Every time you use an app on your phone… or send an email… or search the internet… or shop online… or stream a movie or TV show… that connection or transaction only occurs because of data centers.  No data centers, no internet.  The amount of data being generated in 2025 will be 150% of what it is today and will continue to expand exponentially, according to the market research company Statista.   

Data centers will be built across America to accommodate this growth.  Governor Moore’s efforts to make Maryland’s economy more competitive will pay off as we attract data center jobs – and workers – to Maryland.  IBEW electricians will show up every morning to build this new industry and keep it running to power the rest of Maryland’s economy. 

Michael McHale is Business Manager of IBEW Local 24 with more than 2,250 skilled electricians and technician members from Frederick County to Ocean City. In Maryland the IBEW represents over 18,000 members working in the broadcast, inside/outside construction, manufacturing, railroad, telecommunications and utility industries.