3 Key Takeaways From Oregon’s Semiconductor Report

Joan McGuire

Stakeholders are optimistic about the CHIPS Act’s passage — but say they need help from local governments, too.

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In mid-October Oregon State University announced it had raised most of the funds for a $200 million on-campus innovation hub that will include a massive supercomputer and a cleanroom — a low-particle room required for semiconductor research.

The Jen-Hsun and Lori Huang Collaborative Innovation Complex is slated to open in 2025 with $50 million in funding from the couple as well as a large anonymous donation of $50 million. The school plans to request an additional $75 million in funding from the state legislature in 2023, and announced a $25 million capital campaign at a Friday-night ceremony involving a light show and the OSU marching band.

Stakeholders say the center will be a site for many kinds of research — including robots and sustainability — but they’re also hoping it will be a boon for Oregon’s semiconductor industry, providing both key insights and improving the talent pipeline for chip manufacturers in the state.

It’s a dramatic development for Oregon’s semiconductor industry, which has been under a microscope this year. In January Intel — which is Oregon’s largest employer, with 22,000 employees at its Washington County campuses — announced that it plans to locate its new plant in Ohio. In July Congress passed the CHIPS Act, a $280 billion investment package intended to bolster domestic microchip production.

In August the state’s semiconductor task force — a group of two dozen stakeholders from industry, government and higher education — released a report outlining just what the state’s semiconductor industry needs to grow and thrive. It noted that Oregon maintains a significant footprint in the industry, with 15% of the U.S. semiconductor workforce residing in the state, but that local growth in the sector has stagnated in recent years. (And as this issue went into production, rumors swirled that Intel was planning to lay off thousands of employees due to reduced demand for new computers, though the company had not confirmed any cuts by press time.)

Here’s what industry stakeholders are hoping to see in the coming months.

1. The industry is hoping for big federal investment. But stakeholders want help from the state, too.

Duncan Wyse, president of the Oregon Business Council, notes that investment from the state is part of what made Oregon a leader in microchip manufacturing in the first place.

“The adoption of the Strategic Investment Program in the early ’90s, under Gov. [Barbara] Roberts, led to a surge of investment — by mainly Intel, but lots of other companies, though Intel clearly was the big dog in this,” Wyse says, referring to a state program that allows a 15-year property-tax exemption on a portion of large capital projects developed by traded-sector businesses. “That led to an extraordinary investment. What happened in that period was the smartest, most talented folks in the world, agglomerated in Oregon, in the semiconductor industry.”

Wyse says the state needs to develop new incentives to encourage the industry to stay here and to expand, in order to remain competitive with other states. (He didn’t mention any other states specifically, but shortly after Intel announced plans to expand in Ohio, officials in that state said they’d sealed the deal by offering the company $2 billion in grants, infrastructure spending and tax cuts to incent the company to expand in the state.)

Such incentives are sometimes characterized as tax breaks, Wyse says. But he contends they ultimately pay for themselves, because bringing more jobs to the state means an increased tax base. The task force report cites an analysis from the consulting firm ECONorthwest saying that every $1 billion in semiconductor capital investment generates $44 million in public revenues and 7,000 construction-related jobs, and every 2,000 permanent chip jobs created generates $57 million in annual public revenues — and creates another 4,000 jobs.

The report recommends an expansion of existing forgivable loan programs for businesses, a research-activities tax credit, a family-wage tax credit and an investment tax credit for advanced manufacturing.

2. Location, location, location.

Tax incentives are only part of the policy picture. The task force report also notes that Oregon’s 1990s tech boom was made possible by the availability and rapid development of more than 2,000 acres of development-ready industrial land.

But the inventory of land — particularly large lots of Tier 1, development-ready land in the Portland metro area, where it’s easier to draw talent — has fallen sharply in recent years, from nine potential sites in 2011 to just two during this year’s inventory. The state also lacks infrastructure funding to quickly develop land, the report notes.

The task force report acknowledges that there’s no silver bullet for addressing the lack of readily available land, but says stakeholders need to act fast, working with local jurisdictions to determine land availability and create a map of sites that can potentially be developed.

In the medium to long term, though, the task force recommends the state adopt a “nimble land-use system that can anticipate and quickly respond to economic opportunities.”

And part of making sure there’s usable land for manufacturing — not just semiconductors — is reworking environmental regulations to ensure they’re both predictable and timely, Wyse says.

“I always stress this point,” Wyse says. “Intel is, for example, totally committed to reducing its carbon footprint in a very big way. They’ve set very ambitious goals. This isn’t about trying to skirt regulations, it’s about getting clear what they are and how to meet them.”

Sue Richards, Hewlett-Packard’s global head of microfluidics, echoes that point.

“Incentives are one thing, but part of that is ensuring that we have a supply of industrial land that’s shovel ready, and that can meet the size and the needs for the industry. Ensuring we have environmental regulations that not only protect us and this beautiful land that we all get to be a part of every weekend, but provide the speed and the permitting required to ensure that we have the talent and workforce across the continuum,” Richards tells Oregon Business.

3. The industry wants help fromOregon’s colleges and universities— and vice versa.

Oregon has a higher concentration of skilled semiconductor workers than any other state in the union, the report notes. But while the state’s education system is producing “tech-savvy, skilled graduates” through some “outstanding programs and models,” there aren’t enough to meet growing demand.

In particular, the report says there’s a crying need for entry-level technicians and other workers with bachelor’s and associate’s in the industry. And K-12 students are often not aware of career paths in the tech manufacturing sector.

The report’s authors praised Future Ready Oregon, a historic $200 million investment into workforce development that puts a particular emphasis on funding for community colleges and training for blue-collar jobs, including work in the manufacturing sector. The report recommends using some Future Ready Oregon funds to expand successful models for technology education, address immediate needs to expand the supply of operators and technicians — and invest in community colleges’ capacity to recruit, retain and train low-wage working adults for better jobs in the tech sector.

“We’re all excited to see new investments like Future Ready Oregon, and are exploring opportunities to leverage it to increase training in the sector,” says Portland Community College President and task force member Adrien Bennings. “In order to stay competitive, we need to continue to invest in workforce to build and educate a diverse pipeline of workers in the semiconductor industry and advanced manufacturing at large. The need is there in the industry, the opportunity is great. How we move forward is incumbent on how we partner together as one for the collective interest of our state, and our communities and the people serving our communities.”

Wyse says the passage of the CHIPS Act follows an “explosion of interest” in the semiconductor industry, in part because a global microchip shortage has led to shortages of things like appliances and new cars. But there are other reasons the United States needs to be making microchips at home, he says — and there’s an opportunity for Oregon to be part of it.

“We do not want to be behind other countries when it comes to chips, because if nothing else, it’s a national security issue,” Wyse says. “We’re learning with the Ukraine war that those with intelligent weapons systems have got a big advantage. So we want to make sure we have the competitive edge for that reason — but to be competitive, we also need good jobs and resources for our economy. And then what we need to think about is, how does Oregon stay in that position? Our idea is to create a lot of really good jobs that employ a lot of Oregonians; we want to make sure we’re doing that in an equitable way so that those who may have not been able to participate in the economy have that opportunity.”

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