States look beyond “lab to fab”

New federal funding to encourage the construction of national chip-making facilities has thrilled state and local officials with the idea of ​​nurturing an ecosystem around new factories to create more opportunities for businesses and workers in the technology.

But it also presents a challenge for local authorities, which may need to make significant investments in infrastructure to support the construction of new factories or encourage chipmakers to reallocate manufacturing sites where utilities are already installed. .

Federal officials, who have previously said the $54.2 billion CHIPS and scientific law “will live or die by what happens at the local level,” said it is incumbent on governments to focus on improving entire communities, rather than just erecting a big chip factory.

“This is not a program to go and build a few factories and call it a day,” Sreenivas Ramaswamy, senior adviser to the Commerce Secretary, said during an October webinar hosted by the National Institute for Standards and technology. “This is a program to revitalize the entire national semiconductor ecosystem, to enhance our national and economic security.”

“It’s not just the lab to manufacture,” Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb said at a conference in October. an event hosted by the Washington Post. Instead, local leaders should think about how governments can encourage other businesses to come and support the manufacturing effort.

This includes the companies that make the silicon wafers, the equipment and tools needed to build the chips, and the companies that supply the software, some of which may be onsite and others nearby. This means that state and local leaders should encourage investment not only in research and development, advanced materials and semiconductor design, but also robotic manufacturing, supply chain security, environmental protection. intellectual property and IT infrastructure such as cloud computing, data centers and broadband networks.

Manassas, Va., was home to a Micron manufacturing facility since 2002, which, in addition to directly employing approximately 1,600 people, is also home to Lam Research, which provides wafer manufacturing equipment and services, and other companies that support Micron’s business.

Patrick Small, director of economic development for Manassas, said that while semiconductor factories may not have the economic impact of a steel mill, they “still provide a steady stream of employment opportunities and contracts for this whole ecosystem that is the semiconductor industry”.

In an email, Jason El Koubi, president and CEO of the Virginia Economic Development Partnership, said Micron’s Manassas site “anchors a regional semiconductor manufacturing and innovation ecosystem that enhances the proposition value of Virginia as a leader in the semiconductor industry”.

During the same Washington Post event, U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-Va.) agreed that Micron is a “major anchor” in Northern Virginia, and local leaders elsewhere hope to replicate the benefits downstream in their own states.

“I think a lot of these states, as they weigh the possibility of going after one of the large manufacturing facilities, think not only that they will get the manufacturing facility, but that there will be a series of spinoffs and supply chains that go into this facility that will have long-term economic benefits,” Warner said.

Meanwhile, the potential for more jobs is also exciting state and local officials, not just the construction jobs associated with building new facilities, but also the high-skilled technology jobs that support production.

In Northern Virginia, Micron has already demonstrated how a semiconductor factory can support workforce development. In an email, El Koubi said the company has funded “the growth of a talent pool of scientists, engineers and technicians” at local academic institutions, including community colleges.

And Holcomb said Indiana already has strong partnerships in place with its high schools and colleges to offer diplomas, certifications and other educational programs in an effort to go “deep into the bench” and prepare students. to enter the semiconductor workforce.

“This is a holistic effort in terms of opportunities. Thousands of careers that are on offer are going to solve something that could become crippling if this supply chain becomes a supply problem,” he said. “We want it to be a supply gain, and we think they can realize that in the state of Indiana.”

But local communities must first invest in the physical infrastructure needed to support new manufacturing facilities. Micron took advantage of a former IBM facility in Northern Virginia, Small said, so it didn’t need to install new power, water and other utility infrastructure.

When Intel recently announced it would build two chip factories in Ohio, Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther said construction on the nearly 1,000-acre megasite wouldn’t have been possible if the city hadn’t agreed to to help.

“Intel would not have chosen central Ohio as the location for its expanded operations if the city of Columbus had not agreed to provide water and sewer services for the site,” Ginther said during the NIST webinar. “Neighboring New Albany had the land, but we had the utilities, and we all worked closely with the state successfully to advance the area’s best interests.”

Companies looking to build large manufacturing facilities aren’t looking at “a cornfield in the middle of Kansas, 50 miles from the nearest water and sewage treatment plants,” Small said. The existing infrastructure is an essential part of the decision-making process. “It’s not just ownership,” he added.

About Keith Tatum

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