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How Biden’s Chips Act is fueling job growth in Phoenix, Maricopa County

MARICOPA COUNTY, Ariz. — It took 170 flatbed trucks to transport one of the world's largest cranes, as tall as two Statues of Liberty, to the Phoenix suburbs to begin construction. A $20 billion computer chip factory. On the other side of town, an even larger chip manufacturing project is rising from the desert, calling for 12,000 construction workers and $40 billion in investment.

Phoenix is ​​experiencing a booming economy, thanks in part to President Biden. The promise of federal grants in the Biden-backed Chip and Science Act of 2022 will spark some of the largest capital projects in American history, making Maricopa County a world of small components that power all modern electronics. It has transformed into one of the most important manufacturing bases in the country. .

It's unclear whether the investment in this key swing county will benefit President Biden's campaign. But analysts say these projects will create thousands of high-tech jobs and will attract even more professionals who are more likely to vote in favor of them.maricopa, country 4th most populous The county is already purple because it flipped from Trump to Biden in the 2020 election.

Obstacles remain before the factory can become operational. The Biden administration has not yet provided funding for the project, but an announcement is expected in the coming weeks. Semiconductor companies are also facing a shortage of construction and technical workers, prompting one manufacturer to delay its schedule and import more engineers from Taiwan. But local business leaders, politicians and labor unions argue that the investment is helping to boost Maricopa County's already strong economy, which far exceeds that of the nation as a whole. There is.

“The Chips Act is a game-changer for Phoenix for at least a generation,” Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego said in an interview.

The chip law received bipartisan support in Congress amid growing concerns that the United States is ceding too much semiconductor manufacturing to Asia. Computer chips are the brains that power everything from fighter jets to smartphones to cars, making them essential to national and economic security.

In Maricopa County, Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co., Ltd. (TSMC) announced He said the project needed “support” from the federal government, with $12 billion invested in 2020 under former President Trump. TSMC Added Second factory after the passing of the Chip Law, More than triple your investment.

California-based Intel, which has produced chips in Maricopa County for more than 40 years, announced a major expansion in March 2021, citing the importance of federal funding.

The investment is helping transform Phoenix and attracting dozens more companies to the area to supply the giant factory. The changes are most evident around the TSMC site in the county's relatively undeveloped northwest corner, where warehouses, shopping malls and housing developments fill the desert landscape.

Phoenix was already experiencing high growth before the semiconductor project arrived, after a push to diversify the economy away from real estate after the 2008 financial crisis. But economists say massive chip investment is fueling the boom. Maricopa County's GDP growth rate in 2022 is 4.1%, compared to 1.9% for the U.S. as a whole, and the unemployment rate has been below the national average for most of the past few years.

Wages also rose in the county; population It's growing faster than the rest of the country. Paul Bentz, a pollster with Phoenix public relations and lobbying firm Highground, said the expansion of the high-tech industry is pushing Maricopa County in a brighter direction. In the region east of Phoenix, which includes Intel's longtime operations, this change is already well underway and is accelerating as local Republicans field far-right “MAGA candidates,” Benz said. .

The pace of Phoenix's transformation has surprised many. Shortly after chip engineer Mino Morgese bought land west of Phoenix and started building a house three years ago, he accepted a job with TSMC and left for 18 months of training in Taiwan. When he returned to Maricopa County, he hardly recognized his area.

Farms and desert landscapes were replaced by houses and schools. Upscale shopping malls, hardware stores, and new restaurants were opening one after another. And logistics and chemical suppliers were relocating to work with the twin factories TSMC was building. One of the biggest new entrants, Amkor, recently bought 55 acres of land for $2 billion to build a factory that will package and test TSMC's chips for Apple and other customers.

“I was like, 'Is this the same place?'” Morgese remembers asking herself when she returned from Taiwan.

His workday begins around 7 a.m., when he heads to the loading dock to oversee the delivery of some of the world's most expensive manufacturing equipment. If temperature-controlled trucks arrive and are not loaded and unloaded in the correct order, large loads of precision machinery from Singapore, the Netherlands, and other regions can cause traffic jams. “At the end of the day, the workers unloading the tools need to go home,” Morgese said. “And now I have $500,000 worth of material sitting outside.”

TSMC has postponed the start of chip manufacturing at its first factory from this year to 2025, citing a lack of skilled workers needed to install the equipment. Chairman Mark Liu said in July that the company would send more engineers from Taiwan to train local employees.

That was the trigger, angry reaction Construction unions argued that foreign workers were taking American jobs that were subsidized with taxpayer funds. Tensions subsided after TSMC and the union reached an agreement in December. agreement Regarding employee cooperation.

TSMC has 2,200 full-time, white-collar employees in the field, just under half of whom are from Taiwan. This includes engineers, technicians, finance, human resources and management, a group he expects to grow to 4,500 people over time. The company said its U.S. recruitment efforts include a new apprenticeship program and recruitment efforts at university job fairs.

A senior Biden administration official said the government does not see the presence of Taiwanese workers as “necessarily problematic.”

“This company is one of the best in the world in this field and this training they are providing is essential to the establishment of this facility,” the official said, requesting anonymity to discuss the commercially sensitive project. Told the terms. “But the important thing here is that in the long run, that work will be done by American employees.”

Arizona State University has significantly expanded its engineering program since the chip investment was announced, cutting enrollment by about a third to 32,000 students as it seeks to meet a surge in demand for engineers. . The university is also creating two new schools focused on advanced manufacturing and integrated engineering, the latter of which will be located near the TSMC site, university president Michael Crowe said in an interview.

“We are standing firm in this situation,” Crowe said. “We're not going to snap our fingers and suddenly change our engineering personnel pipeline.”

Intel employees flock to local community colleges to train new engineers. Jeffrey Davis is one of more than a dozen Intel engineers leading an introductory course that teaches students how to repair equipment while wearing the head-to-toe jumpsuits required on the clean factory floors. 1 person.

“There's too much semiconductor coming to the Valley, and not enough people,” Davis said during a break from his classroom at Chandler Gilbert Community College. “We're seeing a lot of jobs coming onto the market” for entry-level technicians with starting wages of $24 an hour to $32 an hour, he added.

One of his students, Stephanie Lombardo, said she didn't know what a semiconductor was until he started the class. But after being fired from her job at Verizon, she decided to give it a try. Other students had backgrounds in IT, property management, and restaurants. German Rios, a former computer engineer, said he took the class after driving past the huge TSMC complex and wondering what the building was.

Construction workers from all over the country are flocking to Phoenix to build factories, and local union halls are ramping up recruitment. A local ironworks company plans to build an additional training center to accommodate more apprentices, who typically attend Intel or TSMC for four years of classroom and Receive on-the-job training. Instructor Aaron McDonald said the group has 250 apprentices, up from 25 a few years ago.

At a nearby union hall for sheet metal workers, more than a dozen apprentices learned about computer-aided design before returning to work at the chip factory, installing miles of exhaust ducts. Parrish Boggs, 31, a third-year intern, said she had heard about the Chips Act and the role it played in attracting investment to factories, but other than that she didn't care much about politics. Told. He didn't vote in the last presidential election and likely won't vote this year, he said.

“I've never been actively involved in politics,” he says. Boggs said he feels “very secure” about his financial future given all the jobs being pushed to sheet metal workers. They earn $44.32 an hour and receive a pension once they complete their apprenticeship.

Fourth-year apprentice Jean Edwards, 35, said she felt the economy was “getting a little bit better” recently, citing lower house rents. In the next election, he plans to vote for Donald Trump. “I think he's made a great contribution to our economy…He's a businessman,” Edwards said.

Andrew Van Dam contributed to this report.

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