Editor’s Note: Christopher Chung is CEO of the Missouri Partnership, a public-private nonprofit corporation working closely with the Missouri Department of Economic Development and regional and local economic development organizations across the state.

Data plays a critical role in how government functions in the 21st century. Yet with each passing day, local, state and federal departments and agencies face a growing mound of data that eats up scarce IT resources.

In December, decision-makers from federal agencies submitted final plans for data center consolidation in response to the Obama administration’s efforts to consolidate the federal government’s 2,100 data centers. However, IT managers from every level of government are increasingly seeking secure, cost-effective, sustainable solutions that drive efficiency and optimize resources. Where can data best be protected, preserved and made highly available?

Missouri measures up to IT operational demands for data centers. The Show-Me State boasts a strong business climate, turnkey telecommunications infrastructure, data safety, a talented IT work force and aggressive incentives for business expansion and relocation projects. Moreover, as physical capacity issues like space, power and cooling inspire new solutions in data storage, advanced technologies are being designed by some of the most powerful, forward-thinking companies in the IT industry — firms that also happen to call Missouri home.

A Screenshot of Missouri’s IT Scene

The IT business world is still buzzing over site selection announcements made last year by two industry powerhouses, IBM and Unisys. Unisys Corp. chose St. Louis as the core application development hub for Unisys Federal Systems. Unisys’ new Application Modernization Center of Excellence will provide services and support for Unisys government clients, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture. Developers at the center will also create applications for Apple Mac, iPhone and iPad environments for federal end-users. Unisys will initially occupy 10,000 square feet, but plans to expand the operation to 50,000 square feet.

IBM made headlines last May when it announced the opening of a global service delivery facility in Columbia, near the University of Missouri’s flagship campus. The new center is part of an extensive, but exclusive, network of IBM service delivery centers in more than 20 countries that provide IT services and business process outsourcing capabilities to the corporation’s clients worldwide.

Missouri is also winning with data center investment. Digital Realty Trust, a San Francisco real estate firm that develops and manages data centers, recently expanded its data storage facilities in St. Louis, and XIOLINK, a data center company based in St. Louis, is also expanding in the area. Moreover, the 2009 unveiling of Emerson Electric’s $50 million state-of-the-art global data center puts the state squarely on the map for the ‘green’ data center movement. The 35,000-square-foot facility located at the technology manufacturer’s St. Louis headquarters is home to Missouri’s largest solar array — a 7,800-square-foot rooftop array with more than 550 solar panels that can generate 100 kilowatts of clean energy. The energy-efficient technologies at the LEED Gold-certified data center make the facility 31 percent more energy efficient than traditional data centers and have enabled Emerson to trim already low energy costs by $5 million annually —thanks to Missouri’s fourth lowest electricity rates in the U.S.

Low Cost of Doing Business

Few states are more business friendly than Missouri, which consistently ranks among the top five states with the lowest cost of doing business. Missouri has shown IT firms that it makes sense for them — and provides substantial cost-savings for their customers — to operate where power is cheap and abundant and taxes are low. Missouri has the third lowest business energy costs in the country, the fifth lowest corporate income tax rate and the land is cheaper compared to other parts of the country.

“The biggest draw to Missouri is the price of power here,” said Dan Kirchhoefer, vice president of client solutions for Bick Group. The St. Louis-based data center and cloud computing services firm has designed and built, as well as provided facilities consulting for numerous third-party data center operators nationally and internationally.

Other IT companies that reap the cost-savings benefits of selecting Missouri for their headquarters include: Cass Information Systems, a provider of payment and information services for financial, accounts payable, transportation, logistics and utility needs; health-care IT solutions provider, Cerner Corp.; Charter Communications, which delivers telephone services, cable TV and high-speed Internet; and Savvis, the leading global provider of managed IT infrastructure services.

Guaranteed Connectivity

With more than 2 million high-speed lines, including fiber, cable modem and satellite, Missouri offers a mature, turnkey infrastructure that substantially reduces startup costs.

“Missouri is fortunate to have a number of high-speed broadband providers that are well connected to the Internet backbone and that provide customers with ample bandwidth to meet their communication needs,” stated Ric Telthorst, president and CEO of the Missouri Telecommunications Industry Association. “Companies want to know, ‘Can you connect me to the Internet? Can you give me a broadband pipe that is big enough for my needs today and tomorrow?’ The answer is yes, Missouri can.”

In the last six months, Missouri telecommunication providers have been awarded more than $100 million in federal stimulus funds to further deploy high-speed broadband throughout the state.

Safe and Secure From Disaster

Ideally situated in a low-risk geography sheltering it from natural disasters, Missouri offers a safe and secure environment for digital warehouses. Similar to the naturally formed underground storage facilities the U.S. military uses to protect assets, Missouri boasts more than 15 million square feet of subterranean sites carved out of former limestone quarries, providing climate control, enhanced security and reduced vulnerability.

Cooling components at data center facilities in drought-free Missouri can be expected to operate continuously and without failure. Water is plentiful in the state because it sits at the confluence of the Mississippi and the Missouri river systems. In fact, no drought-related Presidential Disaster Declaration has ever been recorded in Missouri, even during the drought of 1976-77 that resulted in an emergency declaration in 27 states, including five in the Midwest.

Strategically located in the nation’s center and at a low risk of terrorist attack, the state is highly favorable as a disaster recovery area.

A Tech-Savvy Work Force

Missouri’s pool of tech talent runs deep, easily matching data center needs with highly skilled IT workers. Firms that choose Missouri have access to graduates from 43 college and universities that offer a bachelor’s or graduate degree in computer science, electrical or computer engineering, including the University of Missouri, which was designated a Center of Academic Excellence in Information Assurance Education by the National Security Agency and U.S. Department of Homeland Security in 2008.

The state offers aggressive incentive packages to help companies considering relocation. (Legislators in the Missouri House and Senate are also considering four bills that, if passed, would provide additional tax incentives for companies that build data centers in the state.) Yet, in the case of recent expansion announcements by IT heavyweights IBM and Unisys, officials from both companies said that more than state aid, an educated work force was a primary factor for the decision.

From the Ground to the Sky

The Missouri Certified Sites Program assures selection professionals that a site meets standards for commercial or industrial development, helping dramatically to reduce the time required for a company to perform due diligence on the site’s infrastructure and readiness for new investment. Rigorous standards for the program were developed through a partnership between public and private organizations in the state. The first site certified by the program, Ewing Business Park in Columbia, is specifically designated for data centers.

Ewing Business Park is ideal among development real estate in the Midwest for mission-critical facilities. An expanse of 325 contiguous acres sits adjacent to the convergence of multiple transmission lines, an electrical substation and a natural gas-fired peaking plant. The shovel-ready site offers redundancy of electric and broadband, along with looped water. In addition, Boone County has developed an incentive package for qualifying data center projects based on property tax abatement to encourage new data center investment in Columbia. Ewing Business Park is one of many optimal locations in Missouri that match data center site selection criteria.

With the launch of the Federal Cloud Computing Initiative, government agencies have begun to look to the skies. Missouri firms stand ready to help the public sector apply best practices in cloud computing technology that meet business and technology modernization needs. St. Louis-based Bick Group sits at the vanguard of this emerging field. Last year, the company acquired cloud computing firm Blue Mountain Labs, whose founder and CTO David Linthicum is among the most respected thought leaders in cloud computing and service-oriented architecture. The acquisition of Blue Mountain Labs greatly enhances Bick Group’s 50-year portfolio in data center services. “We think that cloud computing will be the prevailing IT architecture in five years or less,” said the Bick Group’s Kirchhoefer.

As the next generation of data centers takes shape through green technologies, as well as infrastructure that is highly available, adaptable and scalable, agencies that choose to protect their valuable data and systems in Missouri can rest assured they’re saving money, improving services and achieving sustainability goals.