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Congress may only have until its August break to find an elusive compromise to broadly popular legislation to give financial incentives to expand domestic computer chip manufacturing, invest in research and development and support STEM education.

Five Oregonians to Play Role in Finding a Compromise

Congressional funding plays a key role in the Pacific Northwest timber, agriculture and energy industries. It also may make a big investment in the computer chip industry, assuming a House-Senate conference committee can produce a compromise this summer.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer paid a visit last week to Oregon to tout the benefits of the $52 billion incentive package for domestic semiconductor manufacturing and research that is contained in the CHIPS for America (Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors) Act, which is stalled in a congressional conference committee. Hoyer came at the request of Oregon Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici, who is on the conference committee searching for a compromise.

A story by Mike Rogoway of The Oregonian noted, “The Portland area has one of the densest concentrations of semiconductor manufacturing anywhere in the nation. But aside from Intel, no company has built a new semiconductor factory in Oregon this century and none are planned, regardless of the CHIPS Act’s fate.” The opportunity for Oregon and Southwest Washington centers on expanding existing capacity to manufacture silicon wafers and advanced computer chips. Intel recently finished a $3 billion expansion of its facilities in Hillsboro.

In anticipation of CHIPS Act passage, Intel announced plans for new manufacturing facilities in Arizona and Ohio. The groundbreaking ceremony for Intel’s proposed Ohio plant has reportedly been delayed because of the failure of the CHIPS Act to pass.

The Senate approved the CHIPS Act with bipartisan support a year ago, but the measure bogged down in the House where progressive Democrats insisted on adding climate change and immigration provisions. The House version is called the COMPETES Act of 2022.

The House-Senate conference committee, which includes five of Oregon’s seven-member congressional delegation, is enormous with members from 15 House committees. The Oregon House members on the conference committee include Bonamici, Earl Blumenauer and Peter DaFazio. Oregon Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley are Senate conferees.

The opportunity for Oregon and Southwest Washington centers on expanding existing capacity to manufacture silicon wafers and advanced computer chips.

COVID-related supply chain disruptions have revealed how dependent US semiconductor manufacturers on foreign-based suppliers located mostly in China and Taiwan. US semiconductor fabrication capacity has been outpaced by foreign expansion, dropping from 40 percent of global share in 1990 to 12 percent in 2020. Policymakers cite the geopolitical risk of foreign dependence of semiconductors and components. Likewise, China has adopted a policy of semiconductor self-sufficiency.

Semiconductors are used in much more than the electronics industry, playing key roles in energy, logistics, communications and automotive industries. They will play an even greater role as robotics, computer-aided manufacturing tools, medical devices, sensors, artificial intelligence and 3D printing become more prevalent.

Provisions of the CHIPS Act would offer financial incentives to build new or expand existing semiconductor facilities, establish an international partnership to develop secure semiconductor and microelectronic supply chains, identify key targets for advanced semiconductor research and bolster support for STEM education. A provision to establish regional technology hubs in the Senate version was omitted from the House version.

The Biden administration has made domestic semiconductor manufacturing expansion a key priority because of national security concerns and the prospect of 7,000 construction jobs and an estimated 3 million new jobs in the domestic computer chip industry.

Semiconductors play a critical role in the consumer, industrial and automotive industries as well as the computer and communications industries. Their role is growing in medical devices, sensors, robotics, 3D printing and artificial intelligence.