The public-private research collaborations at Albany Nanotech are “absolutely” a model for the rest of the country to emulate, U.S. Secretary of Commerce Penny Pritzker said Tuesday.
“To see private companies work side by side to make breakthroughs that will benefit their industry and benefit our country is very powerful,” Pritzker said after an hour-long tour of the $14 billion College of Nanoscale Sciences and Engineering complex at the University at Albany.
The secretary visited the facility as part of a nationwide listening tour.
“The question is, how can we promote more collaboration hubs like this in other industries?” Pritzker said to a group of semiconductor industry executives who held a private roundtable discussion with her following the tour.
Pritzker, a Chicago businesswoman who became commerce secretary late last month, visited the university and the Sematech research collaborative’s clean room facilities as part of a trip that was to take her to Hartford, Conn., later Tuesday.
She said she’s looking for ways the Department of Commerce, which works to create and track job growth and economic development, can help.
“The purpose of this listening tour is to hear directly from business leaders, entrepreneurs and elected officials about their efforts to drive economic development and create good-paying, long-term jobs,” she said.
Sematech, which has its international headquarters at the college, is a private industry research consortium whose members include IBM, TSMC, Intel, GlobalFoundries, Applied Materials and dozens of other semiconductor industry leaders.
Sematech President and CEO Dan Armbrust said Pritzker reached out to him earlier, interested in what makes industry competitors collaborate on basic research.
The Sematech collaboration grew out of U.S. semiconductor companies needing to compete with low-cost Japanese computer chips in the 1980s, Armbrust said. It initially received $500 million in Department of Defense funding. Today, the consortium is international and is working on addressing future industry-wide challenges like converting from 300-mm to 450-mm silicon wafers for manufacturing.
In part due to Sematech, which moved here from Texas in 2010, Albany Nanotech has grown to employ 3,100 people. Proximity to its advanced research and academic programs was one of the big factors that drew the GlobalFoundries computer chip plant to Saratoga County.
“This is viewed as a regional success that can be duplicated elsewhere,” Armbrust said.
The college, which is in the process of trying to become a state university campus separate from the University at Albany, is considered the world’s most advanced university-based nanotechnology research facility. It has more than 300 corporate partners but five primary partners, including GlobalFoundries, IBM and Intel, Samsung and TSMC, who collaborate on basic research.
“The five companies share all the information,” said Paul A. Farrar Jr., general manager of the college’s Global 450 Consortium. “It’s the same basic production process, though each company then goes and does its own tweaks.”
Albany Nanotech currently has 800,000 square feet of space devoted to 300-mm wafer research, and 85,000 square feet of clean room space.
The $4.8 billion Global 450mm Consortium project will add nearly 500,000 square feet of space, including another 50,000 square feet of clean room. There, work will be done on developing next-generation 450-mm manufacturing equipment.
Pritzker toured the half-complete consortium building overlooking Interstate 90 and Washington Avenue, the same spot where President Barack Obama spoke in March 2012.
Pritzker said she was impressed by what Sematech is achieving.
“It requires this kind of partnership between universities and private companies and state government and federal government to make it happen,” she told reporters after the tour. “It is not possible without all those parties coming together.”
Pritzker said what’s happening in Albany is the kind of model Obama is pushing for with his National Network for Manufacturing Innovation, which calls for establishing regional manufacturing research hubs around the nation.
“Replicating this in other venues is something we’re hoping we’ll get congressional support for,” she said.
U.S. Rep. Paul D. Tonko, D-Amsterdam, accompanied Pritzker during her tour, and tied her visit to federal efforts to promote advanced manufacturing, alternative energy research and defense industry research.
“We’re trying to cheerlead to get everyone on the same page, so it’s good to have her here,” Tonko said.