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From anonymity to Montgomery Whitewater, winning the $800 million Meta data center took Alabama teamwork

Bringing the $800 million Meta data center and its 100 jobs to Montgomery took connection through anonymity, teamwork, a whitewater park and some heavy lifting by Alabama Power.

Meta Platforms announced Thursday that it will build the 715,000-square-foot data center on a 1,500-acre site across Interstate 65 from the Hyundai Motor Manufacturing Alabama plant in Montgomery.

Two of Meta’s 20 data centers will be in the state, and the company said Gov. Kay Ivey is the first governor to ever be at two Meta data center announcements. Meta also has a data center in Huntsville.

“Meta has once again sent a friend request to Alabama and, folks, we are happy to accept,” Ivey said at the announcement, which was held at Montgomery Whitewater.

Menlo Park, California-based Meta operates Facebook, Instagram, Threads and WhatsApp, among other products and services. Meta data centers are a key part of the global infrastructure that brings these technologies and services to life.

“Montgomery is the perfect home for Meta,” Brad Davis, director of Community and Economic Development at Meta, said. “It offers so much. Great access to infrastructure and renewable energy, a strong pool of talent and most importantly, a great set of community partners who have helped us move this project forward quickly. You all have been amazing from the beginning, and we thank you.”

The recruitment of what was known as “Project Slate” took more than three years – the first two and half of which was so secretive that Alabama’s economic development team only knew the Meta team by their first names.

During that time, they would celebrate life events together like births of babies and high school graduations.

“But we didn’t even know their last name, never mind the company that they represented,” Alabama Commerce Secretary Ellen McNair said. “But what we did know is that they were incredibly knowledgeable, highly professional and great people who we really, truly enjoyed working with.”

Data centers by their very nature require large amounts of reliable power. Meta’s commitment to clean energy added the requirement of having its power needs met entirely by renewable energy.

McNair said Alabama Power was critical in making that commitment.

“A huge ‘thanks’ goes out to Lauren Lambiase and the Alabama Power team,” McNair said at the announcement. “They pushed this site for months if not years. We thought this project was dead several times, but they kept reviving it and bringing it out. Blair King, Leigh Davis, Leslie Sanders and (numerous) Alabama Power team members touched this Meta project.”

In an interview after the announcement, McNair again singled out Alabama Power.

“I just want to thank Alabama Power for their tremendous leadership in this,” she said. “This project truly requires a tremendous amount of power and that is a big requirement. They stepped up in a major way.”

Meta’s Brad Davis also recognized Alabama Power in an interview with Alabama News Center.

“They’ve been a tremendous partner throughout this,” he said. “That’s obviously a factor that goes into it – we need to make sure this data center stays online to serve billions of people across the world, and we feel confident we can do so in Montgomery.”

Leigh Davis, senior vice president of Customer Solutions and Business Development at Alabama Power, said having Meta choose Alabama a second time speaks volumes for the state but also for Alabama Power’s ability to provide reliable energy on a large scale.

“We are so excited to have a company like Meta announcing today,” she said. “This is a big day for the state, a big day for Alabama Power Company and a big day for the city of Montgomery.”

In addition to the Department of Commerce, Gov. Ivey and Alabama Power, the team included the city of Montgomery, Montgomery County, the Montgomery Chamber of Commerce and others.

One surprising element that played an important role in landing Meta was the new Montgomery Whitewater facility where the announcement was held.

The Meta team was interested in the project even before it was completed.

“At the end of 2022, Ellen McNair called and said ‘Hey, I want you to meet some people out at the Whitewater construction site.’ I said, ‘Good, who are they?’ She said ‘I can’t tell you.’ I said, ‘Well, where are they from?’ She said, ‘I can’t tell you,’” said Montgomery County Commission Chairman Doug Singleton.

Singleton said he met a busload of young professionals at the construction site.

“I told them that day, I said, ‘If I have one wish, it’s that I get to see you again one day,’” Singleton said.

That day was Thursday.

Montgomery Whitewater is helping attract new industry to the River Region. (Montgomery Whitewater)

It’s the kind of activity officials believed Montgomery Whitewater would generate for the River Region, though many are surprised by how soon it is happening.

“As you can see, they picked the Montgomery Whitewater facility to hold their opening announcement,” said Leslie Sanders, vice president of Southern Division at Alabama Power. “The truth is, they have been out to this facility about four times. They’re all going rafting this afternoon.”

RELATED: Montgomery Whitewater a catalyst for growth in Alabama’s River Region

Sanders said since opening a year ago, the facility has already hosted Olympic trials for Canoe Slalom and Kayak Cross in addition to serving as a location for school field trips and STEM education.

Sanders said a number of economic development prospects in addition to Meta have visited the facility because it speaks to the area’s commitment to quality of life.

“Being that this is the most technologically advanced whitewater facility in the country, something like that does make a Meta stop and look and say, ‘This is a progressive city, this is a progressive county, this is a progressive state,’” she said. “Combine that with the best partners such as Alabama Power Company, it makes a compelling case.”