WaferTech site subject of speculation

Rumors focus on possible expansion in Camas

By Aaron Corvin, Columbian port & economy reporter

Published:

Updated: January 31, 2013, 5:33 PM

 

With rumors flying in one direction and then another, the question looms as to whether Camas will see an expansion by WaferTech, one of Clark County’s biggest employers.

Camas Mayor Scott Higgins said Thursday the city hasn’t been approached about a project, and there’s no formal proposal on the table. But he’s hearing the same rumors as everyone else, he said, adding that if it’s true that WaferTech’s parent, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., is eyeing Camas for more growth, then “we’re doing everything we can to be ready and have been since the day (WaferTech) came.”

Those rumors, unlike the initial speculation that Camas was behind potential sites in Oregon and New York, now suggest Camas is strongly in the hunt for another wafer fabrication plant or expansion.

Paul Dennis, president and CEO of the Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association, said the speculation is that TSMC, parent of WaferTech, is behind a project code-named “Azalea,” which is targeting the company’s next fabrication plant in North America.

There’s been talk that it could happen in New York or Oregon, Dennis said. “Why wouldn’t Camas at least be short-listed?” Dennis asked, noting WaferTech — which has about 1,000 employees at its nearly 1 million-square-foot complex in Camas, situated on a 260-acre site — has already been approved for two more building phases. “There’d have to be some update, but not a lot,” Dennis said.

Jim Short, director of facilities for WaferTech, could not be reached for comment immediately Thursday. But he spoke to The Columbian in December about rumors that Camas wasn’t in TSMC’s expansion plans. “It’s a stable operation here,” Short said at the time. “There’s quite a bit of demand for the products that we’re making.”

If TSMC decides to expand elswhere, Higgins said Thursday, “things are always sunny in Camas, and (we’re) still in good shape.” Higgins said the city has other projects under way and expects to make some announcements about them later this year.

But a WaferTech expansion would be “a game changer,” Higgins said, adding that it would involve a “multibillion” dollar project and at least 1,000 more jobs.

Ready for expansion

Speculation about TSMC’s plans intensified late last year, fueled in part by a report by the trade publication Electronic Engineering Times that suggested WaferTech’s owner had designs on a new wafer plant in New York.

That state is helping subsidize investment in the next generation of computer chip technology. The 300-millimeter wafer is currently the state of the art in the industry, but the push is under way to move to the next generation — 450 millimeter.

By contrast, WaferTech is a 200-millimeter fabrication plant. Its raw material is a blank silicon wafer on which it imprints circuitry.

Both Higgins and Dennis, a former mayor of Camas, said the WaferTech site is prepped for future expansion. Higgins said Camas has, since WaferTech’s launch 16 years ago, “planned for them to do another big fab here, and we’ve been building our infrastructure to the point that we can say ‘yes,’ ” if the time comes for an expansion.

In December, Short told The Columbian that TSMC, which has 10 fabrication plants in Taiwan and one each in the U.S. and China, handles everything related to business expansion.

Locally, Short said at the time, he wasn’t aware of any definitive plans by TSMC to expand in the U.S.

Meanwhile, The New York Times reported last week that analysts expect Apple to drop Samsung Electronics as a chip supplier and switch to another company.

“One potential suitor that keeps popping up in the rumor mill is the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., the world’s largest contract chip maker, and for good reason,” according to The Times. “TSMC is one of the few companies that have the capacity and the technology to meet Apple’s demand. The company had $17.5 billion in revenue in 2012 and its net income rose 32 percent in the fourth quarter.”

And, The Times report went on, TSMC’s chairman and chief executive, Morris Chang, “is planning a record $9 billion in capital expenditures to expand production in 2013. TSMC makes some of the smallest and most powerful chips, and these chips go into both computers and smartphones.”

Aaron Corvin: http://twitter.com/col_econ; http://on.fb.me/AaronCorvin; 360-735-4518; aaron.corvin@columbian.com