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Business and Economy

Local Leaders Hope Data Center Will Reinvigorate Millinocket And Katahdin Region

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David Marino Jr.
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BDN
Sen. Angus King, left, shakes the hand of Our Katahdin Vice President Mike Faloon, right, at the unveiling of a Nautilus Data Technologies data center at the site of the former Great Northern Maine Paper Company mill on Saturday.

A California company will bring a $300 million data center to a Millinocket site that once held the world’s largest paper mill, in the culmination of years of effort by leaders from across the Katahdin region.

Nautilus Data Technologies said Saturday that it would open a 60-megawatt data center on 13 acres of the 1,400-acre former site of the Great Northern Paper Company, becoming the first industrial tenant since the site stopped producing paper in 2008.

Leaders from Our Katahdin, a non-profit that owns the property, have lobbied for new tenants since the group purchased the site in 2017.

The data center is expected to bring up to 30 jobs to an area that has struggled economically since the closing of Great Northern Paper Company as well as the Greater Northern Paper Co. mill in East Millinocket in 2014. Nautilus will use the center for cloud storage.

Our Katahdin leaders said that the work hasn’t always been easy. They’ve seen some bumps in the road, including in late 2018, when a $1 million-plus IRS debt owed by the former owners and taken on by Our Katahdin drove a North Carolina company from building a $30 million composite wood factory. Our Katahdin settled that IRS debt in 2019.

The nonprofit has worked to make the site more attractive to investors, announcing last year that it was spending $8.5 million on improvements to the site’s roads, rail, water and sewer system, as well as its power grid. Those improvements are ongoing, Our Katahdin President Sean DeWitt said.

“We knew in the beginning that it was going to be a lot of not very sexy, not very interesting work,” DeWitt said. “But work that needed to be done.”

While there are no other new tenants set in stone, DeWitt said Our Katahdin is recruiting other businesses, including in the saw mill and aquaculture sectors.

Millinocket Town Council Chairperson Steve Golieb said the new center is a hard-earned win for Our Katahdin.

“Setbacks are difficult because you’re not only feeling like you let yourself down: you feel like you let down the community,” Golieb said. “This definitely cements all the work that they’ve put into it.”

Saturday’s announcement came at 1 Katahdin Ave. in Millinocket, the former location of the paper mill’s administrative building. Gov. Janet Mills and U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King all spoke. Former U.S. House Rep. Mike Michaud and Maine House Rep. John Martin also attended.

Collins said that the data center might never have come to Millinocket had it not been for the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 supported by Collins and signed by President Trump in 2017.

The Opportunity Zone designation allows investors who put money into projects in those areas to avoid taxes on the capital gains returned by their investments. Millinocket is one of seven such Opportunity Zones in Penobscot County.

She said the opening of the data center in the aftermath of the century-old mill’s closure showed the resilience of Millinocket and surrounding communities.

“The real credit for this extraordinary achievement goes to the people of the Katahdin region,” Collins said.

Several people in attendance on Saturday had a direct connection to the mill, including Wally Paul, who had worked there for three decades on its power system and in quality control.

For Paul, the new data center is a beacon of hope for a town with vast potential that has seen many years of economic struggles.

“We were an innovative place — stuff happened here that never happened anywhere else,” Paul said. “And now it seems like it’s starting all over again: we are on the cutting edge.”

King said that Nautilus’ announcement was an important milestone for Millinocket. He is more anxiously awaiting the future the center could bring for the former mill town.

“This project is using 1 percent of the space, so there’s a long way to go,” King said. “But you know, it’s a start. The infrastructure will be here, and I’m looking forward to coming back for future celebrations,” King said.

This story appears through a partnership with the Bangor Daily News.