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December 20, 2018

Passamaquoddys pursue internet data center to create quality jobs

The Passamaquoddy tribe at Indian Township is planning to build a state-of-the-art data center that is expected to create well-paying jobs and diversify the regional economy.

Plans also call for building the center using hydrogen-powered fuel cells in order to eliminate carbon emissions at the Washington County site.

The plan is to employ 20 to 25 people to start. The pay for the position of remote desktop technician is expected to be $40,000 to $50,000.

"That's a beneficial point in this area" where most work is low-wage, Darrin Coffin, Passamaquoddy tribe finance director, told Mainebiz. "These are specialized jobs."

The U.S. Economic Development Administration awarded $100,000 to the tribe to fund a study of the center, to be located on the reservation not far from U.S. Route 1, the offices of U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Angus King, I-Maine, announced Dec. 19. The study is expected to identify resources necessary for sustainable operations — including workforce development, capital, business management, legal services, and administrative support.

Coffin said the tribe is awaiting word on its application to the U.S. Department of Treasury's New Market Tax Credit program. The program attracts private capital into low-income communities by permitting individual and corporate investors to receive a tax credit totaling 39% of the original investment and claimed over a period of seven years against their federal income tax. The department is scheduled to announce its next round of participants this winter.

"We're hoping that when the Department of Treasury announces that, our project will be in that," Coffin said. "That will launch this venture."

Coffin said the data center will serve businesses and individuals requiring data storage and remote access. The plan also calls for marketing services to corporations like Microsoft, Google and Apple.

For example, "A lot of accounting firms use remote desktops," he said. "All of their information will be stored on a remote server that they can access through the cloud anywhere in the U.S. Their data is secure and backed up."

The project leverages the reservation's location on Maine's 3-Ring Binder, designed to bring high-speed broadband connectivity to rural parts of the state. Much of that fiber capacity is going unused, he said.

"There's a big demand for data centers," he said. "There's healthy margins to be made and it will be healthy for Washington County."

The tribe has identified a site on the reservation for build-out, half a mile from its public safety building and close to Route 1. The local tribal council has approved the project, he said.

It's expected that groundwork could begin next May and the center could be operational 12 to 14 months after that.

The center will likely be built as modular pods and will have room to grow.

He said King's office also introduced the tribe to Joi Scientific Inc., a hydrogen energy company at Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

"Data centers have high energy intake, which causes them to have a high carbon footprint," he said. "With Joi Scientific as our partner, we'll use hydrogen-based technology to power the data center."

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