Jobs Watch: Intel commitment brings needed momentum

ben-blogThe business and political leaders who gathered in a circus tent this morning for Intel’s big announcement were almost giddy with optimism, and it’s easy to understand why.

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Intel’s big event this morning took place in a circus tent and there was a certain circus-like tone to the festivities. Many of the government and business dignitaries seemed almost giddy with the prospect of Intel investing billions in Oregon and creating thousands of new jobs. “What a great day to be alive!” exalted Congressman David Wu. “Sunshine, a couple billion dollars in new investment, a couple thousand new jobs. All we need is a an Oompah band playing ‘Happy Days are Here Again.’”

Such enthusiasm is understandable given the state’s prolonged economic slump. Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley and Governor Ted Kulongoski were equally demonstrative in their praise for Intel’s investment as a huge symbol of the states’s recovery, and its positive business environment.

“Intel did not wander into our state by mistake,” said Wyden. “They didn’t invest billions and hire 15,000 people in Oregon because they like the weather in January… They did it because Oregon is a good place to do business.”

As proof, Wyden pointed to the 1,000 new jobs just down the road at Solarworld, the world’s largest windfarm in eastern Oregon (the Shepherd Flats project), Facebook’s server farm in Prineville, the new biofuels plant being built in Boardman and the transfer of NOAA’s research fleet from Seattle to Newport.

“Folks, I’m sensing momentum here,” proclaimed Wyden.

Other politicians were eager to second that notion. “It is about jobs and it is about national reputation,” said Kulongoski. “What this company has shown Oregon is that they have faith in us.”

“This is the cutting edge technology in the world, being built right here in Oregon,” said Merkley.

Is this wishful thinking from politicians getting beat up on the jobs issue, or is it real?

There’s no denying that Intel’s announcement is both real and huge. The company will be building a new development fab in Hillsboro and updating two others, hiring thousands of construction workers temporarily and 800-1,000 manufacturing employees permanently. The permanent jobs are worth about $120,000 each per year when you factor in benefits.

Bill Holt, the Intel senior VP and general manager who has lived in OR for more than 30 years, said the new 22-nanometer chips that will be created in Hillsboro will serve growing global markets for mobile and embedded computing. Those are two areas that have eluded Intel even as the company has tightened its dominance in the personal computer and server markets. The audience responded with noisy applause when Holt said, “This ensures that we will continue to do our development in Oregon for the foreseeable future.”

Among those applauding that commitment are members of the building trade unions, the many companies that sell goods and services to Intel, and the thousands of recent college graduates entering a brutal job market.

It is worth repeating that Intel is Oregon’s most significant private sector employer, with over 15,000 jobs and a statewide payroll of $1.8 billion.

With an unemployment rate glued at 10.6% for 10 (make that eleven) months and counting, I guess there’s nothing wrong with a few hours of giddy optimism about the future of Oregon’s economy. In this case it would seem at least partially justified, especially when you consider what we’ve been through.

Ben Jacklet is managing editor of Oregon Business.

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