Developing a robust workforce through science, technology, engineering and math education is key to the expansion of local technology companies.
That was one of the takeaways from a press conference Wednesday with Washington Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell at the nLIGHT manufacturing facility in Camas.
“Certainly workforce development is a huge magnet for relocating and growing companies. And we’ll continue certainly to support that,” said Jennifer Baker, president of the Columbia River Economic Development Council.
“The workforce shortage is a really key issue,” said Cantwell. “What you have here is an ecosystem. We want to grow it. We want it to be even more robust. And if you do that, then other companies will look at the region.”
The press conference was held to shine light on the local impact that could result from the recently enacted $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act, for which Democrats Cantwell and Murray helped secure passage.
“We’ve developed this critical technology in the U.S.,” said Scott Keeney, chief executive at nLIGHT. “We’re continuing to expand and we’re bringing manufacturing back from overseas.”
The company’s story is a great example of what the CHIPS and Sciences Act is about, added Keeney. “This act can help enhance what we’re doing and accelerate what we’re doing.”
Camas-based nLIGHT produces high-powered lasers that are used by electronics manufacturers, as well as in defense and aerospace.
John Michael, general manager of global operations and technology at Analog Devices, spoke about the work being done at his company’s campus in Camas. The company creates integrated circuits used in electronics. Michael held up a magazine with a Mars rover pictured, pointing out that a chip made in Camas was used in the Martian vehicle.
“That’s really what this act is bringing back to the United States — more opportunities to have cutting-edge technology like this in a wide range of industries that we serve,” said Michael.
“Right now, you’re seeing us expand internally at all of our sites, again bringing back these jobs we desperately need for manufacturing,” Michael said.
“For decades, Clark County’s economy has benefited from the legacy presence of microchip and integrated circuit makers, the international leader in silicon wafer growing and the largest supplier of high-performance semiconductor lasers,” said Baker, adding a word of caution.
“Just because America has signaled investment in this priority industry doesn’t necessarily mean industry growth and job growth is automatically going to happen right here,” Baker said. “We must optimize our efforts on the national stage to incur the benefits right here, as we see in New York, Arizona and Ohio.”
Washington ranks in the top 10 states for semiconductor manufacturing, Murray said during the press conference.
“When the Senate took up the CHIPS and Science Act, I knew what we were doing was going to make a big difference when it comes to building a stronger economy right here,” said Murray.
Murray noted the legislation was important not just for bringing in local jobs but also in having a domestic source of microchips.
“This means we will not have to worry about China jacking up prices on chips we need for just about everything we use in our daily lives,” said Murray. There’s also less of a need to worry about the security of the hardware and semiconductors if they’re made domestically, she added.
“We’re getting more products on the shelves. We’re creating good-paying jobs, and we are strengthening our national security,” said Murray.
Cantwell noted that Southwest Washington needs about 500 more high technology workers, combined with another 1,500 in Oregon.
“We need to train and skill about 2,000 people in this region to continue to grow that base of the semiconductor industry that we already have here,” said Cantwell, noting the science, technology, engineering and math investment piece of the CHIPS and Science Act.
“We want to be the leaders in the production of semiconductors, and we want to be the leaders in advanced chip manufacturing,” said Cantwell. “We want to be the leaders in the design of the future applications for this great technology.”