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What you need to know for 07/20/2017

Rumors at GloFo, troubles at tech campus

Rumors at GloFo, troubles at tech campus

The GlobalFoundries Fab 8 complex in Malta got a mention in the Taiwan press this week. Not an accur

The GlobalFoundries Fab 8 complex in Malta got a mention in the Taiwan press this week.

Not an accurate mention, but close enough for work done on a digital deadline. DigiTimes presumably knows the Asian computer chip markets like we know the flavors at Stewart’s, but shouldn’t be asked to know the difference between, say, Halfmoon and Clifton Park.

So when that publication wrote July 1 that “industry sources in Taiwan” told it that an order involving Apple’s next generation of computer chips is coming to “Samsung’s Fab 8 in New York,” we knew what they meant.

Samsung already makes some of Apple’s chips, and Samsung and GlobalFoundries have an agreement that, in effect, lets them share manufacturing, shifting chip orders between plants as needed. The Apple order is reportedly for 14-nanometer chips — the smallest on the commercial horizon — and Fab 8 is one of the very few factories in the world that can fill it.

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp., meanwhile, is the only chip foundry company in the world bigger than GlobalFoundries, and presumedly has people in charge of caring for and feeding the local press. It has no intention of letting the business it now gets from Apple slip away, and “will also exert efforts to retain Apple’s orders,” according to DigiTimes.

The DigiTimes report got wide circulation in the technology press, but nothing about it is confirmed by the participants.

GlobalFoundries doesn’t speak about its customers unless they speak first, and Apple’s public information policy makes Darth Vader seem chatty.

But an Apple order is as lucrative as chip orders get — we’re talking about the processor chips inside iPhones and iPads, which sell like beer at a baseball game.

More than 2,200 people already work at Fab 8, and a $2.3 billion research center going up next to it could do additional production and will provide several hundred more jobs. A long-term deal with Apple might even justify construction of Fab 8.2, an event larger chip plant — estimated cost, $15 billion — that GlobalFoundries has on the drawing board.

Another major rumor going around is that GlobalFoundries will be buying IBM’s chip manufacturing plants in East Fishkill and Essex Junction, Vermont.

IBM wants to shift out of chipmaking and GlobalFoundries has deep-pocketed owners in oil-rich Abu Dhabi who have been willing to “take the long view” about spending money, so such a deal is plausible. Very plausible.

All the good buzz around GlobalFoundries makes it all the more troubling that its host site, the Luther Forest Technology Campus, remains in such deep financial trouble.

The tech campus is missing some rather basis infrastructure — a critical road connection, a basic entrance sign — because state grant money ran out. It has been unable to attract any additional tenants, despite having a world-class computer chip plant.

There will be another effort to revive a deal under which Saratoga County would take the internal roads now maintained by Malta, in return for a loosening of zoning rules that county officials say are choking off development efforts.

Matthew Jones, an attorney for GlobalFoundries and the Luther Forest Technology Campus, is working on a zoning revision application that would ask Malta and Stillwater to broaden the definitions of businesses allowed in the park; allow financial “inducements” to attract new business; set a formula so applicants can anticipate local development costs; and allow pre-application site preparation work on undeveloped sites.

If those changes were made, the county would take the roads, which Malta officials contend are costing the town hundreds of thousands of dollars annually to maintain.

Jones said the zoning amendment application won’t be filed with the town of Malta until mid-September because there is a “voluminous” environmental record to review from previous applications, and it must be examined to determine if new studies are needed.

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