Why not Virginia for expanding semiconductor manufacturing?

Virginia Engineering Programs

by James C. Sherlock

Among the things that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has highlighted is the vulnerability of Taiwan and with it the access of the US economy to the 90% of advanced computer chips manufactured there.

The national security requirement for manufacturing national chips provides opportunities. It is the nation’s most pressing manufacturing priority. So why not build the necessary factories in Virginia? Is the Commonwealth organized to attract these investments?

For the answer to the last question, I looked at the Virginia Department of Commerce and Industry, the Virginia State Council on Higher Education (SCHEV), and Virginia’s engineering schools and didn’t I found nothing to suggest Virginia was making an organized effort.

Much of Virginia’s main effort in engineering education is expanding opportunities for Amazon workers in Northern Virginia.

I suggest that Virginia focus its commerce department on chip manufacturing, create dedicated educational consortia, identify available facilities and manpower like those at the closed Rolls Royce factory in Prince George’s County and offers tax abatement programs to actively recruit semiconductor manufacturing.

Virginia’s congressional delegation is pushing to make the state a national center for semiconductor research. It focuses on Henrico and Chesterfield as a potential location for a federally-funded national semiconductor technology center and a national advanced packaging manufacturing program.

Hope we get it.

But it’s not chip manufacturing. Virginie does not have an organized program that I could find at the Ministry of Labor and Industry, among its universities or regional consortia to attract chipmakers.

Composition of the workforce. The control resources necessary for chip foundries are trained and trained personnel.

You may know that Intel is investing heavily in semiconductor factories in central Ohio. To find out what the workforce should look like, I looked at an article by Columbus Business First from the local NBC affiliate.

About half of the jobs initially created at Intel’s future semiconductor fabs in New Albany may only require a high school diploma, a sign that a large portion of the workforce from central Ohio could find a job at Intel close at hand.

According to an analysis of the employment distribution in semiconductor manufacturing plants using data from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, 40% of jobs directly hired by Intel may require a bachelor’s degree.

Intel is expected to directly employ 3,000 workers in its initial $20 billion expansion in central Ohio, though the project could eventually grow significantly larger as Intel builds more factories, or ” fabs”, here. These jobs will come with an average salary of $135,000, or 2.5 times the median household income in Columbus.

According to BLS data, nearly 50% of the occupations that typically make up semiconductor manufacturing plants in the United States require only high school diplomas. The largest group of these workers will likely be electrical and electromechanical assemblers, followed by semiconductor processing technicians, inspectors and testers, and assemblers and fabricators.

The 40% of a semiconductor manufacturing plant workforce that requires a bachelor’s degree includes industrial engineers, software developers, electronic engineers, hardware engineers, and electrical engineers.

The remaining roughly 10% of the typical semiconductor manufacturing workforce is split between 7% workers with an associate degree and smaller groups with no formal education, no post-secondary degree, and with a college degree or no degree.

Current chip factories in Virginia. Virginia currently has only a few manufacturing plants.

There are two Micron facilities in Manassas and the private company Virginia Semiconductor Inc. manufactures chips in Fredericksburg. Micron announced plans to invest more than $150 billion globally over the next decade in advanced manufacturing and R&D, including potential plant expansions in the United States.

In 1998, Motorola halted construction of a $3 billion factory in Richmond just after it started.

What to do? Virginia, in order to compete with the explosive demand for semiconductor fabs in the United States, must combine the ability to provide and continually update an educated workforce. This means a combination of engineering schools and community colleges. Virginia engineering programs include (see illustration)

  • Engineering schools in Virginia: 47
  • Engineering undergraduate programs: 42
  • Engineering Graduate Programs: 16
  • Schools with on-campus accommodation: 15

The geographic dispersion of these college programs, like our community colleges, widely distributes opportunities across the state.

As an example of what could be done, the University of Virginia School of Engineering

…has partnered with the construction industry to 1) expand course offerings; 2) increase exposure to the latest EMC technologies; 3) bringing more practicing professionals into our classrooms; 4) connect students directly to career opportunities; and 5) create opportunities to train and mentor students for construction competitions.

The Virginia Department of Commerce has initiatives in the areas of broadband, energy, and workforce development. Its manufacturing efforts focus on advanced materials, aerospace, automotive and wood products. These are big industries, but they don’t explode like chip manufacturing.

The Commonwealth will also have to participate in the tax relief competitions that accompany the quest for such investments. States far ahead of Virginia in new plant construction include Arizona, Texas and Ohio.

We have to get in the game.

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