Richmond Times-Dispatch: Warner, Spanberger lead push to make Va. hub of semiconductor research

Apr 07, 2022
In the News

RICHMOND TIMES-DISPATCH, MICHAEL MARTZ

Virginia’s congressional delegation, led by Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., and Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-7th, is pushing to make the state a national hub of semiconductor research under legislation that would deliver $52 billion to boost production of vital computer chips.

The delegation delivered a letter to U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo on Thursday to pitch Virginia as the site of the National Semiconductor Technology Center and the National Advance Packaging Manufacturing Program, both part of competing bills that the Senate and House of Representatives are poised to reconcile for final passage.

The letter is signed by both Virginia senators and 11 congressional representatives, with strong backing back home from Henrico and Chesterfield counties, both prime locations for new semiconductor manufacturing plants to produce computer chips that power automobiles and a wide range of microelectronic products.

“We are ready,” said Anthony Romanello, executive director of the Henrico Economic Development Authority, which boasts “shovel ready” sites at the White Oak Technology Park.

The initiative is driven by the CHIPS Act, part of a larger pending package of high-tech research aimed at making the U.S. more competitive with China in key markets. Semiconductor chips are central to that push because the U.S. currently produces only 12% of the world’s supply, which has become hard to reach for domestic auto manufacturers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“These issues are at the heart of rising prices that are impacting Americans’ pocketbooks,” the delegation said in its letter to Raimondo. “Additionally, investing in domestic semiconductor manufacturing is crucial for U.S. global competitiveness and national security.”

“As such, we strongly support robust funding for the CHIPS Act, and believe Virginia is uniquely positioned to effectively leverage federal investments to strengthen domestic manufacturing,” they said.

Despite the urgency, Congress has been slow to adopt the legislation and send it to President Joe Biden to sign into law. The Senate approved its version of the bill last June, but the House passed a competing version in early February.

The differences must be reconciled in conference committee for final votes by each chamber.

Virginia already has a presence in the semiconductor industry with the manufacturing facility that Micron Technology operates in Manassas, but the state lost at least one factory during the Great Recession with the closure of the Qimonda plant at White Oak in eastern Henrico.

Chesterfield also is poised to attract a major semiconductor manufacturing factory, with a 2,000-acre site at Upper Magnolia Green that was among the final three locations for a pair of chip plants that Intel announced in January that it would build in Ohio.

“Securing advanced manufacturing is critical to growing local, regional and state economies, which is why Chesterfield has taken a strategic approach to be ready when opportunities knock,” said Chesterfield Board of Supervisors Chairman Chris Winslow in a release of the letter to the Biden administration.

In addition to new chip fabrication plants, Virginia’s congressional delegation wants to land two proposed national centers for research in semiconductor manufacturing and advanced packaging.

The National Semiconductor Technology Center represents a public consortium that would involve private companies as well as the U.S. Department of Energy and the National Science Foundation.

The National Advanced Packaging Manufacturing Program would be an initiative led by the National Institute of Standards and Technology for research and development of domestic processes for semiconductor packaging.

“Virginia’s leading technology workforce and semiconductor manufacturing presence make the commonwealth an ideal location for future federal investments in semiconductor research and manufacturing,” they said.

Both Warner, as chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, and Rep. Don McEachin, D-4th, who represents Richmond and parts of Henrico and Chesterfield counties, were named Thursday to the conference committee on the America COMPETES Act, as the larger bill is known.

“As we look to solidify our strong economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic, we must ensure we are taking steps to increase our global competitiveness and bolster manufacturing here at home,” said McEachin, who was appointed by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. “Reaching a final agreement on this legislation is a top priority, as it will help modernize our supply chains, address inflationary pressures, and create new jobs for the American people.”

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