(TNS) — It's somewhat ironic: One of the best glimpses into Augusta, Ga.'s future can be found at a 136-year-old textile mill.
The mostly shuttered Sibley Mill in the city's historic Harrisburg section is where a group of high-tech investors are working through the initial phases of a $150 million plan to develop a multi-use complex called Augusta Cyberworks.
The plan would transform the hulking industrial property and the adjacent King Mill into offices, apartments and a 20-megawatt data center to power the city's growing digital economy.
"There is nothing like this here in Augusta," said Charles Johnson, the CEO of IT firm EDTS and a partner in Cape Augusta Digital Properties, the developer of the Cyberworks campus.
EDTS, which provides remote network and cybersecurity services, is Cyberworks' first tenant. The 72-employee company moved into 32,000 square feet of renovated space in the mill's old cotton warehouse last summer.
The space is just a fraction of what's available in the 500,000-square-foot Sibley Mill, and the 600,000-square-foot King Mill next door. Johnson and his Cape Augusta partners envision the 19th century textile mills becoming a "tech citadel" in the urban Harrisburg neighborhood just west of downtown.
The ambitious project is just one of many byproducts of the region's rapidly growing cybersecurity industry, which was kick-started when the Army selected Fort Gordon as its headquarters for electronic warfare in late 2013.
The infusion of IT talent and resources is evident in other parts of the central city, from the state-funded construction of the Hull McKnight Georgia Cyber Training and Innovation Center along the riverfront to the renovation of a 94-year-old YMCA building on Broad Street, where tax software firm TaxSlayer plans to house its creative staff.
Those soon-to-be-completed developments will join established tech enclaves, such as Unisys Corp.'s massive client service facility at Discovery Plaza and Rural Sourcing Inc.'s software development center at Enterprise Mill, in creating the foundation for Augusta's burgeoning IT industry.
As substantial as those investments are, they could just be the tip of the iceberg, said G.B. Cazes, a former executive at Louisiana's National Cyber Research Park.
"This community is going to be successful and grow just because of the very fact of what's going on at the fort," said Cazes, who was hired by local leaders to help develop the seven-county Fort Gordon Cyber District initiative. "But what it can also be – if we do it the right way – is be transformative. We can really leverage that growth to span across all aspects of life here."
The most extraordinary example of transformation is occurring at the Cyberworks site, where the flowing water of the Augusta Canal will be harnessed to power and cool a massive data center in much the same way it was harnessed more than a century ago to power the city's first factories and mills.
"The canal brought the industrial revolution to Augusta," Johnson said. "What we're seeing with cyber is a new industrial revolution."
Sibley Mill's three-story warehouse was where the cotton was sorted and stored in the heat of summer and cold of winter. Today, it's where EDTS employees sort and store – and protect – terabytes of data in climate-controlled comfort for a host of small- and mid-size companies in the Southeast.
Among the building's exposed brick walls and hand-hewn rafters are amenities common in the modern high-tech workplace: nursing rooms for new mothers, quiet rooms for private calls and an employee fitness center complete with showers and a laundry room.
"Young people today are pretty finicky, especially the talented ones," said James Ainslie, a partner in Cape Augusta and former head of the South African tech firm Cloudseed.
Like the rest of the mill complex, the warehouse gets its juice from the mill's three canal-powered hydroelectric generators. The emission-free turbines – and the 65-degree water source that spins them – also will power and cool a massive "tier 3" server farm that will serve as the "cloud" for EDTS and future Cyberworks tenants.
Johnson, Ainslie and fellow Cape Augusta partner Wayne Millar, a South African-born real estate developer who has lived in Augusta for more than a decade, envision the mill complex becoming a mini version of Maryland's National Business Park, a sprawling complex in Baltimore near National Security Agency headquarters.
Currently, the tenants include EDTS and its affiliates – EDTS Cyber and Secure IOT – and UMBC Training Centers, a Maryland-based subsidiary of the University of Maryland Baltimore County that provides cybersecurity certificate training.
Cape Augusta's long-term plan to create a "live-work-play" atmosphere at the Cyberworks complex includes converting King Mill into more than 250 market-rate apartments. Cape Augusta has a long-term lease agreement on Sibley Mill from its owner, the Augusta Canal Authority. Cape Augusta purchased King Mill from the authority in a $3 million deal announced in February.
Cape Augusta's partners said Cyberworks employees would find the apartments attractive because they could walk to work. And because Harrisburg, like much of Richmond County, is part of a federal Historically Underutilized Business Zone, Cyberworks business tenants could qualify for "HUBZone" incentives if 35 percent of their employees live in the zone.
The trio envisions Cyberworks helping the nearby Kroc Center and the nonprofit Turn Back the Block organization speed revitalization efforts in Harrisburg.
They plan to have the data center certified through the Federal Risk and Authorization Management Program, a cloud-security standard known as FedRAMP. That certification, along with "tier 3" status (tier 4 is military grade), would be the seal of approval needed to market the data center to large-scale users such as Amazon, Microsoft or IBM, Ainslie said.
Ainslie has used the term "citadel" to describe the Cyberworks facility, which he envisions as the private-sector analogue to Fort Gordon.
"(Fort Gordon) is the absolute genesis of the local industry. I'm not taking away its importance, but the DOD is 1 percent of the problem," Ainslie said. "The front lines for cyber are in the private sector – small businesses, manufacturing plants, health care companies. This is where guys are fighting the war against the bad actors and the nation states."
©2018 The Augusta Chronicle (Augusta, Ga.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.