SEH America to expand production capacity in Vancouver

Governor says it’s ‘wonderful news’ for local area, state

By Gordon Oliver, Columbian business editor

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SEH America, one of Clark County’s largest manufacturing employers, will expand its production capacity in Vancouver, Gov. Chris Gregoire said in a news release Friday.

Manufacturing equipment is being shipped from Japan, and initial production is expected during next year’s first quarter, according to the governor’s statement. The investment will allow production of the “epitaxial 300-mm wafer,” the statement says. SEH’s silicon wafers are used to make microchips for computers, lasers, automotive electronics, telecommunications and consumer products.

“This is wonderful news for Vancouver, and the entire state of Washington,” Gregoire said in the statement. “This important investment in manufacturing technology will allow Washington state to retain its leadership in semi-conductor manufacturing and is a vote of confidence in our skilled labor force and positive business climate.”

 The four-paragraph statement offered few details and made no mention of new jobs, and company officials did not return calls requesting comment. An aide to Gregoire said that the governor had learned of the expansion during an October meeting with Chihiro Kanagawa, chairman of SEH America’s Japanese parent company, Shin-Etsu Chemical Ltd., that was part of her trade mission to Japan and China.

“We don’t have a lot of details about the who, when where or why,” said Schuyler Hoss, Gregoire’s regional representative for Southwest Washington.

Still, state and local officials said the news that SEH’s Japanese parent company, Shin-Etsu Chemical Ltd., was investing in Clark County was a key victory for the county and the state. The company has about 800 employees.

“This is good news for our community, but we are not privy to details from our Japanese friends,” said Vancouver Mayor Tim Leavitt. “I think they really don’t want to bring a whole lot of attention to themselves.”

Paul Dennis, president and CEO of the Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association, said any expansion at SEH is good for the larger region. “This is a great thing,” he said. “It reinforces that (Shin-Etsu) believes in this community and are making an investment here.”

Gregoire made the statement after meeting in Olympia on Friday with Tatsuo Ito, SEH America’s executive vice-president, and Pat McDonnell, the company’s senior director of site services, according to Hoss.

SEH America rarely discusses its business operations or expansion plans. It recently requested a building permit for a $6 million renovation and expansion of Building 12 on the SEH campus at 4111 N.E. 112th Ave. Also this fall, it spent $2.65 million for a 30,000-square-foot building and 1.6 acres of vacant land adjacent to its manufacturing site, but that purchase may have been just to secure property that it might want for future expansion in the immediate area.

Two years ago, the company paid $55 million for the 174-acre former Hewlett-Packard property in east Vancouver, but it has not disclosed any plans for that property. HP has relocated to the Columbia Tech Center in east Vancouver.