Milam County banking on bitcoin facility to spark economic growth in the region
“The future is very bright here.”
ROCKDALE, Texas (KBTX) - Earlier this year, Gov. Greg Abbott signed HB4474 that recognizes cryptocurrencies like bitcoin in its uniform commercial code for financial institutions. The bill paves the way for people and businesses to use virtual currency to conduct certain transactions and investments. One Brazos Valley county is leading the way in the cryptocurrencies industry and hopes the virtual currency will bring new life and jobs to the region.
Over the past decade, Milam County has had its share of economic setbacks and losses. In 2008 Milam County lost a substantial amount of its tax revenue when Alcoa shut down its plant in Rockdale. Alcoa, once Milam County’s largest employer, laid off close to 1,000 people. In 2017, Luminant closed its coal-fueled power in Rockdale, once again sending economic shockwaves through the Central Texas region. Milam County would go on to lose a hospital in Rockdale and Cameron in 2018.
Now, the county is turning to bitcoin and cryptocurrency mining to spark economic growth in the region. Milam County Judge Steve Young says the new mining facilities in Rockdale are just the beginning of a bright new future for the county as leaders continue to recruit major companies to help revive what was once a bustling economy.
“Milam County has suffered for years from the loss of Alcoa. Alcoa was the single largest source of revenue for the county and for the school districts. Then on top of that, in 2018, some 10 years later, the second largest employer Luminant, which was a coal-fired generating facility that supplied electricity, left town. So this county was hurt bad,” said Young. “Then, of course, we lost the hospitals in December of 2018. That was a big deal.”
Young says now the county is showing signs of bouncing back. He says having the largest bitcoin mining facility in the country is enormous for the central Texas region.
“I just think those things say to all of us in Milam County ‘the future is very bright here,’” said Young.
Whinstone U.S., the 100-acre data center and mining facility sits on the property of the former Luminant facility, which Whinstone’s CEO Chad Harris says makes Rockdale the perfect location for growing the company.
“Riot’s Whinstone data center is the largest in compacity in North America. We are a high-speed, high-density computing processing center, meaning we have developed an infrastructure that supports Bitcoin mining in North America,” said Harris. “Here on this facility, directly across the street, is one of the largest electrical interconnects in Central Texas called the sand dial switch. That allowed us to build at scale and capacity to actually build our facility. "
Harris says the company is constantly growing and looking for ways to invest back in the community.
“Right now, we’re expanding our facility from 300 megawatts to 700 megawatts. We were reaching recently purchased by riot blockchain in May of this year. Our initiative is to expand and grow this business to support the development and infrastructure of Bitcoin in North America,” said Harris. “We are actually growing at a pace that will help reproduce some of the jobs that were lost when Alcoa actually closed down. Our business is about growing, hiring people in the community, and supporting this community as a whole.”
Whinstone will also play a vital role in the energy infrastructure of the Central Texas region. As a bonus, the mining facility can generate enough power to supply an estimated 150,000 homes for ERCOT.
“We’re infrastructure builders, and how this works is that we’re able to build at capacity, large facilities that support these machines running in the background. They are intense power users. One of the things that you have to think about is how our company supports Texas and the Texas power grid, right,” said Harris. “Ninety percent of Texas is supported in the ERCOT market. We act as a virtual power plant. At times when the electrical grid is stressed, we actually can turn our entire facility off within five seconds.”
Harris says the company is looking to expand its workforce.
“We’re looking for people that want to join our team. There are people in this world that might not know what we do, but this is a great place to start. We have all kinds of jobs that we’re creating, whether it’s making content, marketers, videographers, data center workers, construction. Our field is unlimited here. The great part about it is we will actually train you to do these jobs,” said Harris. “We provide paid health insurance, 401K’s, paid time off, vacation, all those things.”
Judge Young says the American Statesman Glove Company is also eyeing Milam County for its new home.
“That’s a big deal for us. They’ve narrowed the deal down to us and a place in Delaware. If we can get this deal finalized, it will be huge for us,” said Young. “I think we have so much more to offer them here, and I think that they’re going to like it here.”
Young says Milam County is also applying for a grant to bring a regional training facility to the area to train employees to fill the jobs that are expected to flood the area.
“We’re working on a grant to build a regional training center in this county. This would be a training center to train people from everything from truck driving to the technical jobs that are coming in at the data cryptocurrency mine and to the Samsung chip makers,” said Young. “We are going to train people to fill those jobs.”
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