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Chesterfield, Henrico, 2 other Va. localities vie for semiconductor chip sites

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Hadis Morkoc, a professor of electrical engineering and physics, gives Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., a tour of the microelectronics center on Thursday, at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Hadis Morkoc, a professor of electrical engineering and physics, led a tour Thursday at VCU’s Virginia Microelectronics Center for a group that included Sen. Mark Warner.

Four local governments—including Chesterfield and Henrico counties—are pitching potential sites for large semiconductor chip factories to take advantage of a new federal law that dangles billions of dollars of incentives to return manufacturing of the critical microelectronic component to the United States.

Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., one of the principal authors of the CHIPS + Science Act that President Joe Biden signed into law on Aug. 9, convened a roundtable discussion in Richmond on Thursday to showcase sites that the state is marketing to attract big investments by manufacturers eager to take advantage of $40 billion in new federal subsidies for domestic production of semiconductor chips.

“I think Virginia is going to be very competitive,” Warner said in an interview after the meeting and a tour of the Virginia Microelectronics Center at Virginia Commonwealth University. “But we have to realize that certain states at this point are a bit ahead.”

“We’re going to have to put up incentive packages that are frankly much larger than we have in the past,” he said, citing competition from states such as Ohio, Texas, Arizona and New York.

The 90-minute meeting included big county delegations led by Chesterfield County Administrator Joe Casey and Henrico County Manager John Vithoulkas as well as representatives for other potential semiconductor chip manufacturing sites in Pittsylvania County, outside of Danville, and Chesapeake in southeastern Virginia.

“We’re very much in the hunt for a large semiconductor facility,” said Garrett Hart, director of economic development in Chesterfield.

Chesterfield officials aren’t thinking small for a potential user of the 1,200-acre site in the Upper Magnolia Green megasite on the western side of the county, where an extension of the Powhite Parkway is planned. The site was a finalist for an investment by Intel Corp. that Hart said would have created a 400-acre manufacturing plant employing up to 20,000 people.

The company, based in Santa Clara, Calif., instead chose a 1,000-acre site near Columbus, Ohio, for a $20 billion investment in up to eight chip fabrication plants, with the initial phase expected to employ 3,000 Intel workers.

“If we can handle Intel, that big, we can handle anybody else,” Hart said in an interview on Thursday.

Across the James River in eastern Henrico, the White Oak Technology Park already has been home to a large semiconductor chip factory run by Qimonda, until the company went bankrupt during the Great Recession. The former factory building is now owned by QTS, providing shared space for data centers, including one that serves more than 65 executive branch agencies of Virginia government.

The technology park also is home to data centers run by Meta, Facebook’s parent company, and has six additional sites for development, including a combined 250-acre parcel along Elko Road near the intersection of Interstates 295 and 64.

“The site would accommodate a nice-sized fab,” said Anthony Romanello, executive director of the Henrico Economic Development Authority, using shorthand for a chip fabrication facility. “We’ve had a semiconductor plant there, so the infrastructure at White Oak already is supersized.”

Another contender is the Southern Virginia Megasite at Berry Hill, with more than 3,200 acres, including about 1,900 acres that the Virginia Economic Development Partnership identified as “shovel-ready, publicly-owned, developable land that can meet all required specs and timelines.”

The Berry Hill site, a partnership between Pittsylvania and the city of Danville, was a finalist for a $5.5 billion investment by Hyundai Corp. in adjacent factories for electric-vehicle assembly and EV battery manufacturing. In late April, the South Korean company instead chose a megasite near Savannah, Ga., for a project expected to employ more than 8,000 people.

Sen. Frank Ruff, R-Mecklenburg, who chairs a legislative commission that reviews state incentives for economic development projects, said the Berry Hill megasite “is the biggest in the state and probably one of the biggest ones on the East Coast.”

Not all of the rolling property is graded to be shovel ready, but Ruff said, “Anybody who is serious could start on the part that’s already ready to roll.”

The fourth site that the state economic development partnership is pitching is the Coastal Virginia Commerce Park, more than 4,000 acres of farmland east of the Great Dismal Swamp in Chesapeake along U.S. 17, a four-lane divided highway near the Port of Virginia in Hampton Roads.

One of its champions is Del. Barry Knight, R-Virginia Beach, chair of the House Appropriations Committee. He also is vice chair of the Major Employment and Investment Project Approval Commission, which played a key role in shaping Virginia’s winning bid for Amazon’s $2.5 billion East Coast headquarters in Arlington County.

Knight said Chesapeake expects to rezone the property by late fall and then buy it from owner Frank T. Williams to develop the land as a megasite.

“It will probably take a year and a half or two years to get it shovel ready, but we’re proceeding in that direction,” he said in an interview on Thursday.

The challenge is how to attract companies that are looking to make major investments in semiconductor chip factories to take advantage of the federal subsidies available under the CHIPS law.

Jason El Koubi, president and CEO of the economic development partnership, said in a presentation on Thursday that the state is pitching a “robust labor pool and talent pipeline ready to support the industry’s historic staffing needs.”

Virginia already is home to Micron Technology Inc., one of the few companies still manufacturing semiconductor chips in the U.S., which account for just 12% of a global market dominated by South Korea, Taiwan and China.

Micron, based in Boise, Idaho, has produced semiconductors at the Manassas plant for almost 20 years, employing about 1,300 people. Four years ago, it announced a $3 billion expansion, aided by $70 million in state incentives to generate an additional 1,100 jobs by 2030.

The company—represented at the meeting by Senior Vice President and General Counsel Rob Beard—recently raised expectations by announcing that it will invest $40 billion in production of semiconductor in the United States by the end of the decade because of the new federal incentives.

“Micron is finalizing its specific U.S. expansion plans and will share additional details in the coming weeks,” the company said in a statement to the Richmond Times-Dispatch on Aug. 18. “There are multiple factors that inform our decision to invest billions of dollars to construct and operate a fab.”

“Regardless of the location of the new greenfield fab, ongoing investments in existing fabs will be needed over time to upgrade them to produce the latest technologies,” it added.

The CHIPS package also includes about $12 billion for research—potentially boosting work that is already under way at VCU.“We are hopeful that today’s conversation and the law will spur additional federal investment in our nation’s scientific agencies like the National Science Foundation,” said P. Srirama Rao, vice president for research and innovation at VCU. “With a diversity of expertise among our faculty, VCU is well-positioned to make Virginia the right place for such federal investment.”

Shiv N. Khanna, chair and professor of physics at the university who is researching materials used to produce the chips, said: “We are excited about the push to grow the semiconductor manufacturing industry in the U.S.

“Here at VCU, we have scientists whose research could support the continuous innovation needed by the semiconductor industry.”

Warner said that money also will help develop a supply chain for the tools and equipment needed for chip production, presenting economic opportunities of varying sizes for Virginia communities.

“Virginia has got more than 100 sites of more than 100 acres,” he said. “This is not just about a couple of locations across the commonwealth.”

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