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Taiwan company plans $12 billion chip factory in Arizona

Computers chips circuits (Jon Sullivan/WikiCommons)

Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp. said Thursday it will spend $12 billion to build a new chip factory in Arizona. The announcement leaves the fate of its aging factory in Camas, just across the Columbia River from Portland, in doubt.

TSMC is a contract manufacturer making chips for other Apple and many other electronics companies. It operates primarily in Taiwan but has run the WaferTech factory in Camas since 1998.

The 260-acre Camas site was designed to accommodate several chip factories, but after a series of logistical problems TSMC walked away from plans for a large U.S. campus there. The decision to expand in Arizona instead of Camas could orphan that site, with makes chips using 200-millimeter wafers, a nearly obsolete standard.

The Trump administration has courted TSMC and Intel, Oregon’s largest corporate employer, seeking to reduce reliance on Asian technology and rebut China’s aggressive expansion into the semiconductor industry.

TSMC said Thursday it will build its Arizona factory with unspecified subsidies from the U.S. government. Arizona is a battleground state and the Taiwanese company’s decision to build there could give President Donald Trump an economic win to tout to voters there.

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“TSMC’s plan to build and operate a $12 billion semiconductor facility in Arizona is yet another indication that President Trump’s policy agenda has led to a renaissance in American manufacturing and made the United States the most attractive place in the world to invest,” U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross said in a written statement.

Washington is a reliably Democratic state. Economic development officials would not say Thursday if they had bid for TSMC’s new factory, but in a statement Washington’s economic development agency acknowledged that “Arizona got the deal.”

TSMC did not immediately respond to an inquiry about the future of its Camas site. Its Arizona announcement said it plans to start construction next year and begin making chips in 2024.

Earlier this week, Intel confirmed that it has been in talks to build its own contract manufacturing facility with support from the U.S. government. Intel has long made chips only for itself; a decision to build a factory dedicated to making chips for others would represent a major strategic shift.

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© 2020 The Oregonian