PORTLAND, Ore. — The greater Portland area — including Hillsboro, Southwest Washington, Corvallis and beyond — is known as the "Silicon Forest" for a reason. Common sense dictates, then, that a big chunk of tax money is going to spur growth in this region due to the passage of the $280 billion CHIPS Act.
But Oregon and Washington may have to work for it.
Something called the "Oregon Semiconductor Competitiveness Task Force" has been looking at the opportunities and the roadblocks to more high-tech investment and growth in Oregon.
The findings are a mixed bag. On the positive side, semiconductor research and development are already Oregon's competitive advantage. There are many smart, talented people in this region who can do that kind of work.
But according to the report, we need more buildable industrial land close to big cities and places where people want to live. That's one reason Intel did not even consider Oregon when it went to Ohio to build two huge new chip manufacturing facilities.
We also need more incentives, the task force found. Other states offer incentive packages that are both larger and more specifically tailored to the semiconductor industry than Oregon.
And Oregon's regulations are both too complicated and too slow. The report points out that other states offer a more streamlined approach, which is comparably more in sync with the speed of the market.
Duncan Wyse is president of the Oregon Business Council and helped bring the task force into existence. He said it's time for Oregon to get going.
"We need to catch this wave. And to do that we've gotta step up," Wyse said. "In particular — actually, on all fronts. Research, land regulation and tax incentives. If we put these together we have an unbelievable opportunity to provide great jobs for Oregonians who might otherwise not have them and to generate a lot more revenue for public services and community benefit. And frankly, to take the pride that we are one of the centers in the world that is leading in semiconductors. That is a real prize that I don't know that Oregonians understand how great we are already and how we could continue to be the world leader in semiconductors."
If Wyse is right, then the state needs to work aggressively to cash in on the CHIPS investment. The bottom line, according to the task force — if we want more high tech industry here, we need to make it a lot easier for them to come here or expand.
There is a chance of some expansion. Intel, Oregon's largest for-profit employer, hopes to tap into some of the $2 billion of CHIPS Act money that's set aside for a national semiconductor technology center, according to the report.
The task force report states that Intel has developed a proposal for an advanced lithography center to be located in Oregon and funded under the NSTC, which refers to that $2 billion program
The Intel expansions may be a long-term item, but right now some companies are already looking at Oregon. The Oregonian reports that the state is courting three semiconductor companies that may build here. The combined investment could be as much as $8 billion.
In the meantime, Washington's U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell visited Camas on Wednesday to tour the nLIGHT company, which makes high-powered semiconductors and fiber lasers. We took the opportunity to ask Cantwell how the U.S. semiconductor industry fell behind others around the world.
"The industry itself has transitioned so fast. There's so much development that happened," Cantwell said. "But there was a point at which international activity really kind of stepped up their game — in Korea, in Taiwan and other places — and literally started producing, manufacturing at a lower rate. Lots of incentives by their governments, and those incentives spurred even more of a concentration in some very specific areas in Asia.
"And we learned through COVID that we just can't rely on other countries for a critical part of our supply chain. And having the shortages we've been having has been affecting the price of everything."
Senator Cantwell helped push through the CHIPS Act. She said it is critically important that the U.S. re-establish itself as a place to make semiconductor chips, and to keep innovating.
"The United States, with this bill, this investment in science, is learning how to get more out of the chips we do produce which is becoming more challenging because we're asking them to do more things, " Cantwell said. "We're asking them to help negotiate a driverless car. That's a lot of information and a lot of processing power. So we have to keep investing in the chip production itself, in the substrates and the technology of the development and see how we can get efficiency out of the chips without creating more heat and more capacity challenges. And so, this is something we think uniquely the United States can do and our national labs are gonna work on it, and here in Southwest Washington we're gonna work on it."