Rockdale boom: Bitcoin mining companies move to rural Texas town
Rockdale was once home to the largest aluminum mill in the world operated by Alcoa.
ROCKDALE, Texas – For decades, aluminum was manufactured in the sprawling Alcoa industrial complex southwest of Rockdale. At the time, the work was fueled by a coal-fired power station.
Now, not far from the main Alcoa location, a new type of mining operation is running by a company called Whinstone, a subsidiary of Riot Blockchain, Inc.
“Right, when you think about how old technology is used to generate electricity, new technology to use electricity, and the term ‘mining’ is used. It’s an interesting point of view,” said CEO Chad Harris.
FOX 7 Austin was guided through the facility, which was built from scratch. Computer walls are piling up in one of the three long buildings. The buildings are 1,050 feet long and the size of three soccer fields. Every computer – called a miner – does complicated cryptocurrency calculations; the reward bitcoins.
“What drove us to Texas was two things. First, A; we needed electricity. And B; I read an article in a magazine called Wired Magazine that said,” Hard Luck Town Bet on Bitcoin and Lost, “” Harris said .
Another cyber currency company came to Rockdale a few years ago. It is located not far from Whinstone in the Alcoa complex and is currently being ramped up. Whinstone now has 150 employees and more than 200 construction workers carrying out an expansion project.
“We quickly realized that we had actually created a work culture that penetrated the community,” said Harris.
Now similar companies want to know something about this city with less than 6,000 inhabitants. “We get an average of two to three calls a week from different miners, in fact I spoke to someone this morning who was interested in coming,” said Jim Gibson, director of economic development at Rockdale.
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There is a lot of loss to make up for. When the Alcoa complex closed, 1,700 jobs were lost and an estimated 30% of Milam County’s tax revenue was lost. The arrival of bitcoin miners, a new breed of high-tech business, is not portrayed as a savior by city officials. However, it creates something that Rockdale hasn’t felt in years.
“There’s a heartbeat, I think it started with our Blue Sky video we did,” said Mayor John King.
That campaign four years ago was an attempt to bring Amazon to town. The goal then and now is to reopen the shop fronts.
“We haven’t seen any real new stores in town yet. (Is that the next step?) I think so, it’s obviously the next step as we keep growing and the advertising we’re making out of the bitcoin says there’s a small town out here ready to thrive, “said King.
An example of this is Abi Vasquez. Family members once worked at Alcoa and they saw what the closure did to Rockdale. “It became a ghost town,” said Vasquez.
Vasquez moved but eventually came back. As a Whinstone project administrator, she not only experiences the changes in the city, but helps with them too. “Oh, it’s amazing, it’s a great feeling.”
Earlier this week, the 31-mile Alcoa property was purchased by a North Texas investment group for $ 240 million. Several parts are believed to be redeveloped, which is why the city’s big bet may not be a bitcoin payout. A deal is made with a more traditional manufacturer. This company could also locate in the Alcoa complex and bring more than a thousand jobs to Rockdale.
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