Gov. Inslee to visit WaferTech in Camas

Roundtable on CRC, visit to Crestline site also on his agenda

By Aaron Corvin and Stevie Mathieu

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Washington Gov. Jay Inslee will pay a visit to WaferTech in Camas on Friday as part of his stopover in Clark County, Inslee's spokeswoman, Jaime Smith, confirmed.

"He'll be talking with" the company, Smith said Thursday.

Inslee's appointment with WaferTech — one of Clark County's largest employers — comes as rumors continue to fly over whether Camas will be the site of an expansion by the company.

"It doesn't happen every day," Paul Dennis, president and CEO of the Camas-Washougal Economic Development Association, said of Inslee's talk with WaferTech.

The visit demonstrates how important the company is to the state's economy, Dennis said, and how "much the state and local jurisdictions would like to see WaferTech make another major investment."

Camas Mayor Scott Higgins said it's always positive when the governor visits a major company in your town. But he cautioned against reading too much into Inslee calling on WaferTech.

"I do believe we are positioned well in the city" to make room for an expansion by the company, Higgins said, "but I just don't know when or if we're going to be asked the question: 'Can you take us?' We know the answer is 'Yes, we can.' I just don't know when or if that's going to happen."

In addition to meeting with WaferTech, Inslee plans to visit the site where Crestline Elementary School burned to the ground, displacing 22 classes and their teachers.

He'll also host a business roundtable in Vancouver that will focus on the Columbia River Crossing project. Inslee has been a strong supporter of the CRC project, which would replace the Interstate 5 Bridge, improve nearby freeway interchanges and extend Portland's light-rail line to Clark Co llege.

N.Y., Oregon compete

Speculation about building plans by WaferTech's parent — Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. — 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.

Oregon economic development officials have said a race is underway between Oregon and New York to land a new electronics factory. Some speculate that the project, code-named Azalea, is a new TSMC wafer fabrication plant, although others say there may be two plants in play — the mysterious Azalea, as well as a separate TSMC plant.

In the electronics industry, the 300-millimeter wafer is currently state of the art. 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.

But Camas city and economic development officials have previously said WaferTech — which has about 1,000 employees at its nearly one million-square-foot complex — is well-positioned for an expansion project.

Local officials have said the WaferTech site has been approved for additional building phases and possesses adequate infrastructure, too. Last month, Higgins said a WaferTech expansion would be "a game changer," involving a huge capital investment and at least 1,000 more jobs.

Jim Short, director of facilities for WaferTech, could not be reached for comment immediately Thursday. 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.

Apple part of rumor mill

Part of the speculation over TSMC's expansion plans stems from reports that computer goliath Apple may 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 New York Times reported in January. "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 .