Will Oregon Get a Chunk of CHIPS Act Spending?

Rogue Valley Microdevices
Workers fabricate microchips at Rogue Valley Microdevices.

The $280B investment package is intended to bolster domestic microchip production, and observers are cautiously optimistic about how the investment will affect Intel and other chip makers

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Last week Congress passed a landmark act intended to increase domestic semiconductor production — but whether it will help Intel, and Oregon, remains to be seen.

President Joe Biden is expected to sign the CHIPS & Science Act, a $280 billion bipartisan spending package to boost the domestic semiconductor production, following its passage in both chambers of Congress last week.

The bill’s name is an acronym for “creating helpful incentives to produce semiconductors” and includes $52 billion in subsidies to companies manufacturing microchips domestically, and another $200 billion for research into computer-related fields, including quantum computing, artificial intelligence, and robotics. 

The bill could act as a lifeline for Intel, which reported 22% year-over-year revenue decline at the end of July, and whose stock prices plummeted this summer to a 52-week low. But its effect on Oregon is in question, particularly after announced factory expansions in Arizona and Ohio, shocking Oregon legislators hoping to expand chip production in-state.

Optimists say Oregon workforce development opportunities — and its research and development sector — will put it the state position to reap the rewards.

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR), a member of the House Science, Space and Technology Committee and vocal supporter of the CHIPS Act, tells Oregon Business the bill’s investment in research and development gives Intel reason to invest in its home state.

Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR).

“One thing Intel does a lot of here in Oregon, and will continue to do, is research and development,” says Bonamici, who adds that of the $52 billion allocated to microchip manufacturers, $11 billion is allocated for research and development projects.

She points to Intel’s $700 million, 200,000-square-foot Hillsboro data center research lab expansion as evidence the company plans to expand its Oregon footprint.

Bonamici says that workforce development is also a major part of the bill, addressing a critical need: Oregon tech manufacturers have reported talent shortages for microelectronic workers since 2021. The shortage led Intel to develop programs for hiring students still in school.

The bill allocates $200 million for the CHIPS America Workforce and Education Fund. This funding will support microelectronic workforce development activities of the National Science Foundation.

Bonamici pointed to Portland Community College’s semiconductor manufacturing workforce program as a way Oregon is already solving its workforce challenges while making sure high-paying tech sector jobs are available to historically marginalized groups.

“There are good jobs in terms of fabrication, construction, and design. Making sure everyone benefits from this is really going to make a difference,” Bonamici says. “We want to make sure jobs in in these fields are available to those groups who have historically left behind.”

The CHIPS Act also contains the Coastal and Ocean Acidification Research, which the congresswoman introduced, and Innovation Act and The Building STEAM Education Act, which she sponsored. The Coastal and Ocean Acidification Research and Innovation Act provides resources to coastal communities and research and development opportunities to monitor ocean health, which Bonamici says will directly benefit those living on the Oregon coast.

She says the STEAM bill, which adds arts and creativity to conventional STEM education, will create more innovative students and workers able to address challenges of the future.

David Lee, vice president of semiconductor at Colorado-based CoorsTek, says the CHIPS act goes beyond helping Intel. Oregon is also home to Lam Research, a key company that manufactures the equipment used to produce chips, as well as a CoorsTek facility that manufactures specialized ceramic materials that are used in their microchips.

“The entire supply chain that supports semiconductor manufacturing stands to benefit from the CHIPS Act,” Lee writes in an email to OB.“Incidentally, CoorsTek currently has open positions in our Hillsboro facility – a direct example of how a robust semiconductor industry supports Oregon.”

Oregon exported $15 billion in electronics in 2021, totaling 60% of the state’s exports, reflecting high demand for microchips. Jessica Gomez, CEO of Rogue Valley Microdevices who sought the Republican nomination for governor in 2022, tells OB the CHIPS act may be pushing up against the state’s current ability to grow.

Gomez says Oregon’s regulatory environment and undeveloped workforce is not positioned to take advantage of all the spending opportunities the CHIPS Act provides.

Jessica Gomez, CEO of Rogue Valley Microdevices. Credit: Jason Kaplan.

“We were now looking at some pretty decent incentives for chip makers. When you have a situation where someone says they are going to foot the bill to the tune of 25%, it’s pretty hard for a builder to ignore,” says Gomez.

“And we are seeing different states are working really hard to attract those new facilities. States like Ohio and Florida have a pretty good head start on us.”

She says she is not surprised Intel has chosen to invest in other states. Gomez says Oregon has kept pace by offering companies incentives, but the state’s environmental regulations, high tax rate and land-use laws disincentivize companies from making large investments in the region.

Gomez also says Oregon universities have lagged behind in developing chip manufacturing programs to develop the workforce to fill open chipmaking positions. She says she has had to source out-of-state employees for her Medford factory workers, since state universities do not produce sufficient workforce to meet demand.

She says initiatives like PCC’s program and Future Ready Oregon, a $200 million investment package that supports education and training for next-generation jobs like chip production, are a “good start,” but that these initiatives will take some time before they reach their full potential.

In the meantime, she thinks chip makers looking to make long-term investments may look elsewhere.

Skip Newberry, president and CEO of the Technology Association of Oregon, presents a different view. He says state workforce development and community college programs make businesses view Oregon as a place committed to a long-term investment in the future of tech production.  

“Having a center of excellence like the Oregon Manufacturing Innovation Center and Future Ready Oregon plan is fantastic for Oregon, and we are looking for opportunities to further scale and expand that.” says Newberry.

“It used to be there was this notion that you had to have like a PhD to be able to work in the semiconductor industry. Increasingly our community colleges, workforce system, and higher ed are paying attention to how we provide certifications, and making sure more people are getting access to these career opportunities,” he adds.

“Where talent is being developed, and is staying, and is relocating, that’s where companies are going to invest.”

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