The Silicon Forest may continue to get greener with potential federal investments and successful state legislation on the horizon — at least that’s the hope of tech industry supporters following meetings of state and national leaders in Hillsboro, Wednesday.
U.S. Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo talked up Oregon’s strengths in the semiconductor industry at a roundtable with lawmakers, higher education leaders and industry professionals at Portland Community College’s Willow Creek campus. Her visit was part of President Joe Biden’s “Investing in America” tour.
Top officials, such as U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, Gov. Tina Kotek and U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici, D-Beaverton, are working to solidify Oregon’s leading position as a semiconductor production hub at a crucial time for the state. The federal CHIPS and Science Act, which Congress passed last year, contains more than $52 billion in federal funding, meant to expand domestic manufacturing of semiconductors — a material critical to the production of a variety of electronics.
In the Oregon legislature, a bill slated to pass through Oregon’s House of Representatives this week aims to make the state more competitive for new semiconductor facilities by investing roughly $200 million into preparing land for potential new industrial sites and spurring technological innovations in state universities. It’s colloquially known as Oregon’s CHIPS Act.
Sec. Raimondo said there are no guarantees around who will get a chunk of that federal CHIPS Act money, but Oregon is in a good position.
“It will be competitive, and based on what I’ve seen here today, I think you will be extremely competitive,” Raimondo said Wednesday. “What you have here — 15% of all the workforce in the industry is here in Oregon, the leading companies here in Oregon, a governor and a congressional delegation getting behind it. There is a lot to like, and I can’t wait to see your applications.”
Raimondo said if the country does not increase its semiconductor workforce, in the next five years it will be short by about 100,000 semiconductor technicians. Those jobs require two-year credentials at community colleges like PCC.
Raimondo said over the next 20 years, the country needs to produce about three times as many engineers and scientists, such as material scientists needed in the semiconductor workforce.
“We have to be producing another million engineers and scientists from our universities and colleges, so it is a big deal,” she said.
Leaders from PCC, Mt. Hood Community College, Portland State University, Oregon State University and the Oregon Institute of Technology joined the commerce secretary, members of Congress and governor at the roundtable. The higher education leaders spoke to various programs aimed at keeping students in the Oregon workforce, including PCC’s Quick Start program — a partnership with Intel and the city of Hillsboro offering paid training for students to become semiconductor technicians.
Oregon Gov. Kotek was also feeling positive Wednesday about Oregon’s future in the semiconductor industry. She said confidently that Oregon’s CHIPS Act will pass this week, and she’ll be awaiting it to make it to her desk. Raimondo acknowledged that legislation as part of a compelling set of Oregon attributes.
“Not every state has a state CHIPS Act which includes very smart investments, like worker training, site selection and investments in companies. Not every state has world class community colleges that are already working with the industry,” Raimondo said.
“What you have here is quite exceptional.”