PORTLAND, OR -- Oregon elected leaders are lobbying hard to get a big chunk of the grant money available through the federal Chips and Science Act. The State Legislature has approved a bill designed to help businesses, universities and communities apply for that funding.
During this week’s meeting with the U.S. Commerce Secretary, State Representative Janelle Bynum heralded Senate Bill 4 as an example of how Oregon is preparing for an increase in semiconductor research and manufacturing, "In that bill, we have $190 million for grants and loans to facilitate applications and loans to the Chips and Science Act, $10 million to assist local governments with site readiness, and another $10 million to support public universities who are looking to leverage these federal research grants." During Thursday's final vote, she said, "I think in my six years here, we’ve never had this kind of pro-business, pro-worker, pro-Oregon collaboration."
But several opponents expressed concern with provisions that allow the Governor to make new land use decisions. "Section 10 of Senate Bill 4 gives the Governor a one-time fast pass around Oregon’s 50-year land use laws," said Rep. Ana Scharf, "While supporters will say Section 10 is a one-time deal, is very restrictive and only to attract semiconductor business to Oregon, I would disagree."
Rep. Jami Cate is also worried it carries too big of a price tag, "We’re committing to an investment in Oregon’s future without knowing the rest of the pieces that need to fall into place and what the cost of those pieces will be." And Rep. Brian Stout says it doesn’t go far enough to make sure the money spent will do any good, "A reactionary attempt to one specific private business sector to attract millions of federal dollars to Oregon. We have seen this approach play out before, and there is no guarantee that any of these monies will achieve the desired lofty end results or meet the aspirational visions imagined with the current legislation." SB 4 passed Thursday with bipartisan support and is headed to the Governor's desk.
Eerlier this week, U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimonda toured high tech facilities in Hillsboro and met with students at Portland Community College's microtechnology lab. She also took part in a roundtable discussion with U.S. Sen. Ron Wyden, Gov. Tina Kotek, U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici and the leaders of several Oregon colleges and universities. State Senator Janeen Sollman told the Secretary the state is ready to grow the workforce, "It’s about keeping our kids here, working here in Oregon. These are incredibly well-paying jobs with tuition reimbursement and benefits." She added, more semiconductor fabrication brings high-paying jobs in the high-tech sector and the construction industry, "We know that one fab coming to Oregon will bring us $2.8 billion for our economy in Oregon, over the next 20 years."
Secretary Raimondo says growing the U.S. semiconductor workforce through the Chips and Science Act does more than boost the economy, "90% of all of the advanced chips America uses are made in Taiwan. So, this is about America leading the world. It’s about securing our future. It’s about our national security. And it’s about being a global leader in technology and innovation."
According to Raimondo, the federal government wants research facilities strategically placed around the country, based on input from scientists, "They will help us to figure out which areas of semiconductor R&D where we need to be focused on. And then we’re going to look for regions around America that already have a critical mass of talent in research and development." Applying for a facility will be a competitive process. Gov. Kotek says she will sign SB 4 to clear the way for Oregon to be considered, "We know that we are well-positioned to be a research hub for the country and we’re going to do everything we can to make that happen."
Sec. Raimondo agreed Oregon is well-poised as a leader in the micro-technology and semiconductor industry, "I think you will be extremely competitive. 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." She expects the process to apply for those research facilities to begin in the fall.
Photo: (l-r) Gov. Tina Kotek, Commerce Sec. Gina Raimondo, Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Suzanne Bonamici meet with PCC students, April 5, 2023.