The CHIPS and Science Act, signed into law last year by President Joe Biden, could play a significant role in the development of American manufacturing and national security. But much work remains for the bill to reach its potential.
Upon passage of the legislation last year, Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., said: “We don’t know exactly what innovations will come out of this, but we do know this — America will be more competitive because of it. And we do know this, that we will be able to grow our economy for the future because of the investments that we’ve made today.”
Recently, during an interview with The Columbian, Cantwell echoed those thoughts:
“Southwest Washington was already a pioneering place for U.S. manufacturing in chips, so now the second round is coming, and we want them to show that they’re ready and poised to help make this happen again. It’s been a little sleepy here, but that was the same thing in a lot of other places in the United States. How come this didn’t grow more here in South Washington? Because it was growing in China and other places. But now it has a chance to come back here and grow here.”
Growing, however, requires more than lofty ideals. Some four decades ago, grand visions of a Silicon Forest to rival California’s Silicon Valley took root. That helped draw Intel to the Hillsboro area outside of Portland, and attracted companies such as Sharp, WaferTech, Analog Devices and SEH America to Clark County.
Yet while the roots of semiconductor manufacturing and related industries are sturdy in the metro area, they have not developed branches as broadly as once hoped.
As Cantwell asserted, this is not unique to the Northwest. The United States accounts for approximately 12 percent of the world’s semiconductor manufacturing, behind global leaders Taiwan, South Korea and Japan.
The CHIPS and Science Act is designed to bolster the industry in this country, calling for $250 billion in federal spending for research and manufacturing. The goal, in part, is to stem China’s growing influence in technology development.
Cantwell told The Columbian: “That’s what the bill was all about, saying that the United States is a great place to do this, that we are going to have the best next-generation chip technology. We’re going to have the best workforce. We’re going to continue with applications that really are very vital applications for farming or aviation, or automobile transportation. It’s a whole different mindset.”
The Northwest is primed to take advantage of that mindset, with inexpensive electricity, abundant water, an educated workforce and easy access to global markets. But it often is lacking the available land that manufacturers are seeking. As Nathan Buehler of Business Oregon said in 2021: “The lack of large swathes of industrial land does pose challenges. The big players are looking for sites that are 1,000 to 1,500 acres for a new project.”
Land-use restrictions in Washington and Oregon have helped prevent sprawl and helped preserve natural areas, but they also have limited the kind of businesses that can grow here.
The choice between wise land management and large manufacturing plants is not a binary one; the two can coexist. But if political leaders, corporations and potential employees hope to fully realize the envisioned Silicon Forest, they must work together to make the Northwest a player in the rejuvenation of American high-tech manufacturing.