For years and years, economic development officials pointed to the 806 acres of the Guilford County Prison Farm in eastern Guilford County as a prime spot for some large companies to come in and establish major operations.
In recent years, however, many companies have located giant new projects in Guilford County without so much as a glance toward the Prison Farm area.
The site has gone from hero to zero, from stud to dud, when it comes to its supposed economic development potential.
This week, Guilford County is entering into a new five-year lease with a farmer who will keep much of the land as farmland and pastures and pay the county about $23,000 a year. This is the same land that – 10 years ago, at the height of Project Haystack fever – was predicted by a study from project backers to have an economic development impact in this area of $6.5 billion. And, no, that “billion” is not a typo.
After that, many companies with all sorts of projects flirted with putting a major operation on the land but passed it by. Now, they don’t even look at it anymore.
Greensboro Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Brent Christensen, who plays a key role in economic development efforts in the county, said it’s been a couple of years since any company has taken a look at the property.
He said the land truly is good for something, like a data center site, but the county has been drawing more businesses, such as manufacturing and distribution centers, which require a great road infrastructure and a strong water system.
“Several of those roads out there are two lane roads,” Christensen said.
In 2013, Project Haystack arrived suddenly on the scene as a proposed data center cluster, but since then, there hasn’t been any evidence of a company using the site for that purpose. Christensen said it still could be an ideal spot for the right customer. It has a very good power infrastructure, he said.
In the past, Burlington has considered supplying water lines if an attractive enough project located there.
Also, data centers don’t create many jobs and therefore don’t require a great road system.
The farm could catch a company’s fancy in the future.
“The data center industry has changed and continues to change,” Christensen said.
Another thing also helps keep that land rural open space. Every time there’s a hint of a major development at the old Prison Farm, the people who live in the area head to a local church for a community meeting and then rise up and challenge the project like you wouldn’t believe.
So, for at least the next half decade, as you drive by, you’re a lot more likely to see cows and horses on the land than bulldozers and cranes.