WARRENTON — An internet entrepreneur wants to build a data center and technology incubator at the North Coast Business Park in Warrenton, a project that could help spark more diversity in the region’s economy.
Mark Cox, a former Astoria resident and CEO of Agile Design, will present the project to the Clatsop County Board of Commissioners on Wednesday night. The proposed campus, across from Costco on 19th Street, would include a nearly 100,000-square-foot data center, technology incubation space and other amenities, such as artificial ponds and a running track around the perimeter.
The data center would employ around 76 people, with an average wage of $75,000, Cox said. He hopes to open the center by the end of 2020.
County commissioners will consider whether to sell a 67-acre lot in the business park for the project. The business park has been slow to take off. Fort George Brewery in Astoria was the first company to show interest in the property when the brewery announced expansion plans in 2016.
Cox, who lives in Southern California, grew up in Astoria and graduated from Clatskanie High School. He earned a business degree at Clatsop Community College before transferring to the University of Oregon, where he earned dual degrees in marketing and finance. He founded a nationwide internet service provider called Global Frontiers Inc. in 1997 and a web-hosting company called Web Hosting Pros in 2004. Last year, he founded Agile Design to facilitate opening a new data center.
Cox was on a recent visit to the North Coast for the holidays when he realized what a good location it would be for the project. Data centers have been rapidly moving to the Pacific Northwest and other areas that offer less-expensive rates for power and water. The North Coast Business Park is also part of a state-approved enterprise zone that could provide a three- to five-year property tax break for new development, although nobody so far has taken advantage of the incentive.
Cox was also drawn by the North Coast’s proximity to undersea fiber-optic cables that help create the backbone of the global internet, he said. The Northwest Open Access Network, a fiber-optic cable operator created by public utility districts in Washington state, recently announced plans to extend a land line through Astoria and Warrenton, citing the interest of an undisclosed, large-scale new customer wanting a connection.
Many of the employees to start the North Coast Data and Technology Center would need to be hired from outside the region, Cox said, but he envisions a training program at the college helping supply future workers.
The property at the North Coast Business Park will meet his company’s needs for the next 20 years, he said. The business is poised to continue growing as more devices connect to the internet.
Jim Knight, executive director of the Port of Astoria, helped shepherd Cox’s proposal. He called it an amazing opportunity for the community and the Port.
“This will be a primary driver of a new form of enterprise in our community,” he said Tuesday during a Port Commission meeting. “We are entering the tech world.”
The plant will need a backup energy source, he said, which could end up being a woody biomass plant potentially located at the Port’s Airport Industrial Park. In addition, there is an opportunity for the Port to get into the business of managing fiber-optic cables, Knight said.