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Semiconductor execs tout region’s effort

Saturday, May 26, 2012
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— Advanced manufacturing has a bright future in the United States if there is investment in research and workforce development, speakers said at a symposium Friday.

“I believe, and I’m sure most you will agree with me, that advanced manufacturing will be the wave of the future,” said Ajit Manocha, CEO of GlobalFoundries, the semiconductor giant that is opening a $6.9 billion computer chip fabrication plant here.

The arrival of Fab 8 — the biggest private investment upstate New York has ever seen — has turned the Capital Region into an internationally recognized technology center. About 1,300 people now work there, and hundreds more may be added if it expands.

Fab 8’s construction in the U.S. runs counter to the historic trend of manufacturing jobs being shifting to other countries, and may mark a reverse trend, at least as far as advanced manufacturing is concerned, Manocha said.

“Now it is coming back, and the question is how to keep it here and sustain it,” he said.

The symposium on the future of advanced manufacturing held at Hudson Valley Community College’s TEC-SMART center concluded a weeklong meeting of the World Semiconductor Council held in Saratoga Springs, the first time the group has met in the Capital Region.

“The whole region has made a tremendous impression on global semiconductor executives,” said Brian Toohey, president of the U.S. Semiconductor Industry Association, which hosted the meeting.

According to Manocha, it was the research work at the College of Nanoscale Sciences and Engineering in Albany, together with the state’s willingness to invest in physical infrastructure, that drew GlobalFoundries here.

“One of the biggest attractions for us was to have the ecosystem here,” he said. “[Colleges] are the foundation for the innovation to produce the most advanced technologies.”

But the CEO also cautioned that other countries with semiconductor industries — places like Taiwan, Singapore and China — have government subsidies and tax credits, and he said the United States may need to do more to keep the industry competitive.

GlobalFoundries has manufacturing facilities in Germany, Singapore, and here. The state provided $1.4 billion in grants and tax credits as an incentive to build the plant in New York — a move industry leaders say “leveled the playing field,” and the sort of policy they say is needed to counter what other countries do.

“If we’re not competitive here, there will be no manufacturing here,” Manocha said.

He said he would like to see more progress being made on local infrastructure needed for Fab 8, including backup water, electric, and natural gas supplies.

“To be successful, we need clarity from government — local, state and federal — that we are in a long-term partnership,” Manocha said.

Should Fab 8 fail, he said, “that word will spread like wildfire … then everyone will lose.”

Leecia Eve, Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s deputy secretary for economic development, said industrial infrastructure is primarily a local responsibility, but the state can step in to resolve issues. The state is interested in developing private-public partnerships that will support manufacturing, she said. “We are trying to be supportive.”

Two congressmen on the panel said the Capital Region — now nicknamed Tech Valley — is leading a national resurgence in advanced manufacturing.

“I believe what we’re seeing here and in the Capital Region is really at the forefront and more of it will be happening,” said Congressman Chris Gibson, R-Kinderhook.

“We’re making good choices that will allow us to live up to the name Tech Valley, but we can’t be complacent,” Gibson said. “Hopefully, we’re just at the beginning.”

U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam, called for government to invest in research. “Where research is sponsored, it will bloom into manufacturing,” Tonko said.

Tonko also suggested exposing young students to advanced manufacturing companies, getting them interested in science, technology, engineering and math careers.

Johanna Duncan-Poitier, a senior vice chancellor for the state university system, agreed that educators need to better prepare students for manufacturing careers.

“It really is all about the educational pipeline and the strength of it,” Duncan-Poitier said. “The strength of our economy depends on us having more STEM graduates.”

Tonko noted that President Obama has now visited the Capital Region three times — most recently when he came to the Albany nanocollege May 8.

“I believe we are showcasing the president’s vision,” he said.

The head of the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency — the government agency whose earlier research developed GPS and the Internet as military tools — said the agency’s electronics research work today is being dwarfed by the speed with which commercial electronics are changing, and the volume but consumer failed far-dwarfs the military’s electronics spending.

But DARPA Director Ken Gabriel encouraged the development of more advanced research and manufacturing.

“I believe this region and the state should be commended for focusing on Tech Valley,” Gabriel said.

 
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