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Wednesday, May 31, 2023
May 31, 2023

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Clark County semiconductor businesses could get boost from Senate bill

By , Columbian staff writer

The U.S. Senate voted Tuesday to move forward with a bill that would provide about $50 billion to support the domestic manufacturing of computer chips. If passed, could the bill provide an incentive for expansion of Clark County’s own semiconductor sector?

Definitely maybe.

The bill, known as the CHIPS Act, is a slimmed-down version of legislation passed by the Senate last year. Its purpose is to incentivize computer chip manufacturing in the U.S.

The U.S. share of semiconductor manufacturing capacity has declined from 37 percent in 1990 to 12 percent today, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association. The association claims foreign incentives for manufacturing are to blame.

Clark County is home to several businesses that manufacture semiconductors, silicon wafers and related equipment.

The largest local seminconductor manufacturer is WaferTech, which makes custom chips for various clients. WaferTech is wholly owned by TSMC, the Taiwanese company that is the world’s leading chip foundry.

Part of the bill’s aim is to lessen the nation’s reliance on foreign semiconductors. Still, foreign-owned companies are included in the latest version of the bill released Tuesday night.

That means TSMC, which oversees WaferTech, could be eligible to receive the funds. The company is planning to expand its U.S. presence — but not in Camas. Last May, TSMC’s board of directors approved creating a subsidiary in Arizona

TSMC’s founder, Morris Chang, called the initiative to bolster U.S. chip manufacturing “a wasteful and expensive exercise in futility” during a talk at the Brookings Institute earlier this year.

He went on to add that manufacturing at TSMC’s facility in Camas costs 50 percent more than manufacturing in Taiwan.

Tuesday’s procedural vote paves the way for a vote by the full chamber later this week or next. It will then move to the House for approval, then would need President Joe Biden’s signature.

“By leveraging the Pacific Northwest’s history in chip manufacturing, this region could play a big role as America rebuilds its semiconductor industry,” said Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) in an email to The Columbian. Cantwell is chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation.

“This legislation gives us the opportunity to win major manufacturing incentives alongside new funds to research and develop the next generation of semiconductors. In Southwest Washington, generations of business owners, researchers, and workers are poised to lead us into the future by helping us solve supply chain shortages, secure advanced chips needed by our Armed Forces, and support American leadership in developing industries like artificial intelligence, clean energy and quantum computing,” she added.

This story was updated to include a quote from Sen. Maria Cantwell.