High-tech sector cashes in on chips

Semiconductor industry leads resurgence in county

By Libby Clark, Columbian Web Editor

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Clark County semiconductor manufacturers began operating at full capacity again last year after two years of falling orders, furloughs and layoffs. The turnaround, which started in late 2009, reached a steady pace as consumer demand returned for computers, mobile phones and other personal electronics.

While other high-tech companies in software, telecommunications and clean energy also grew in 2010, the chipmaking industry stood out as a leader in the region’s economic recovery.

Factory operations returned to full capacity, employing thousands of engineers, technicians and support staff.

Chipmakers, which include some of the county’s largest employers, saw high double-digit growth and profits in the billions. Those benefits also trickled down to local fab suppliers and other related businesses, including WRS Materials, a silicon wafer recycling operation, and Kokusai, an equipment supplier. Both companies reported their own rising sales, buoyed by booming chip sales.

The industry’s gains will continue to reap benefits for the county in coming years:

• Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., parent of WaferTech in Camas, alone reported $1.5 billion in profit in the third quarter of 2010.

• Milpitas, Calif.-based Linear Technology Corp., which operates a semiconductor foundry in Camas, saw its profits more than double to $124.5 million in the second quarter of 2010. The company is considering doubling the size of its current facility here, a prospect that would also double the number of workers to about 600.

• Intel announced it will build a new fab in Hillsboro, Ore. — plans that will benefit local suppliers as well as the one in every ten Intel employees who live in Southwest Washington.

• SEH America is set to expand its operations at Hewlett-Packard’s former campus in east Vancouver, a move that would eventually create approximately 1,000 new jobs in the county.