Gina Raimondo calls on the US to create semiconductor manufacturing clusters

Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo testifies before a hearing of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, on February 1, 2022.

Andreas Harnik | Reuters

WASHINGTON — The U.S. will use funds from the $52 billion CHIPS and Science Act to build at least two large logic fabs for semiconductor manufacturing by 2030, along with several high-volume advanced packaging plants, Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo announced Thursday .

Raimondo’s announcement comes as the department prepares to start submitting applications next week for companies to receive funding under the CHIPS bill signed into law by President Joe Biden in August.

“Each cluster will include a robust supplier ecosystem, R&D facilities to continuously innovate new process technologies, and specialized infrastructure,” said Raimondo of students at Georgetown University’s School of Foreign Service. “Each of these clusters will employ thousands of workers in well-paying jobs.”

U.S.-based manufacturing plants, known as “fabs,” will produce advanced memory chips “on commercially competitive terms,” ​​Raimondo said. The fabs will also help meet the need for current-generation chips and mature nodes “which are paramount to economic and national security,” she added.

“These are the chips that are being put into cars, medical devices and a lot of our defense capabilities,” she added.

The CHIPS Act was introduced to make the US more competitive in the semiconductor market against manufacturing monopolies like Taiwan, which Raimondo says makes 92% of the world’s top chips. Massive reliance on a single country for production exacerbated supply chain problems during the pandemic and raised national security concerns, as any disruption to chip production can hamper the production of a range of goods.

“This is basically a national security issue,” she said. “As I said, CHIPS is about gaining a technological edge, export control is about keeping it.”

Raimondo also expressed concern about China’s use of semiconductors in its technological weapons systems. Taiwan’s proximity to China — and the prospect of Chinese aggression against Taiwan — has also raised concerns within the Biden administration and Congress.

“Don’t be naive, China… (wants) the technology to improve its military capabilities, and export controls (are) narrowly defined or designed to ensure they don’t get these chips to enhance their military capabilities,” said Raimondo to the Georgetown students.

The Commerce Secretary reiterated the government’s plans to invest $11 billion in a so-called National Semiconductor Technology Center.

“The vision for this is an ambitious public-private partnership where government, industry, customers, suppliers, educational institutions, entrepreneurs and investors come together to innovate, make connections and solve problems,” Raimondo said of the center, which actually will include multiple locations across the country aimed at “solving the most impactful, relevant and universal R&D challenges in the industry,” she added.

“Most importantly, the NSTC ensures that the US leads the way in the next generation of semiconductor technologies — from quantum computing, materials science and AI to future applications we haven’t even thought of,” Raimondo said.

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