Biden officials visit Purdue as part of national push to bolster semiconductor production

State and federal officials on Tuesday descended upon Purdue University’s campus as part of a national campaign to bolster the domestic manufacturing of semiconductor chips.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb joined two Biden administration Cabinet secretaries—Secretary of State Antony Blinken and Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo—in West Lafayette to tour the microelectronic training facility at Purdue’s Birck Nanotechnology Center.

Indiana Republican Sen. Todd Young and Purdue President Mitch Daniels also attended.

Officials discussed their push to see Indiana ramp up its role at designing and manufacturing of semiconductor chips that are used to power the nation’s smartphones, cars, computers, medical equipment, military weapons and other technology.

“What we’re doing at home, and particularly what is happening here, goes directly to our standing and leadership in the world,” Blinken said. The secretary of state said the initiative is primarily “about investing in ourselves,” and acknowledged the U.S. is “in a competition with China” to regain leadership over semiconductor production.

“We can bring our country together, we can bring academia, we can bring industry, we can bring federal government, we can bring state government together in order to advance this and create the strongest possible foundation for continuing and even expanding our technological leadership,” Blinken said. “That’s incredibly attractive to other countries around the world who want to partner with us.”

The visit comes on the heels of Holcomb’s privately-funded economic development trip last month in Taiwan and South Korea that focused largely on semiconductors.

The Republican governor’s trip commenced shortly after President Joe Biden signed the federal bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act, which will see tens of billions of dollars appropriated for semiconductor manufacturing and research. The measure was championed by Young.

“We have been preparing for years for this moment, setting the table for an opportunity to receive federal investment in these cutting edge technology projects to ensure that Indiana’s long standing talent … is recognized,” Young said Tuesday at Purdue.

Expanding the semiconductor ecosystem

A shortage of semiconductor chips during the coronavirus pandemic led to price hikes and supply-chain disruptions, including in Indiana.

Nearly 80% of global fabrication capacity for the computer chips was in Asia as of 2019, according to the Congressional Research Service. The United States used to make 40% of the world’s chips, but now makes about 12%.

State and federal officials said Tuesday that the U.S. needs to pour more into research and skilled job training to help build up a qualified workforce and make areas like in Indiana more attractive to technology companies.

They continually pointed to the CHIPS legislation as a way to make that happen.

In addition to new funding for research and development at universities, the federal dollars will help fund other workforce development, like internships and apprenticeships that often serve as a pipeline to employment for students, as well as more partnerships between community colleges and tech companies. Raimondo said that type “critical” training is on display at Purdue, helping the country to fill “thousands of high-paying jobs in the semiconductor industry all over America.”

She emphasized, too, that CHIPS will help the country focus more on “lab to fab”—the accelerated process or turning semiconductor research into new designs and manufactured products. That kind of work is already taking off at Purdue, she said.

Holcomb added that Indiana is striving to overcome a skilled worker shortage by making investments in Hoosier education “very early on,” including at the K-12 levels.

“We seek to further accelerate our advancements and our investments so that we can, in fact, lead the way,” Holcomb said. “We find ourselves in the state of Indiana at peak private sector employment, and that’s because people are getting the skills they need … and these aren’t just jobs … these are truly careers. Semiconductors play a central role in all of that.”

Purdue at the heart of semiconductor growth

Indiana is already poised to be at the epicenter of the semiconductor industry’s growth.

Raimondo announced Tuesday that the U.S. Department of Commerce will partner with SkyWater, a major supplier of semiconductors to the Department of Defense, as well as with Google to provide semiconductor wafer designs to universities across the U.S.

The public-private federal government collaboration will help “fuel” technology research and development, she said.

“We can do exactly the kind of research that’s happening here in this facility by providing these designs for free, open source,” Raimondo said. “It’s about taking the research and development that starts in research at universities and bringing it through to products that power American innovation.”

SkyWater, in partnership with Purdue, announced in July a $1.8 billion plan to open a 600,000-square-foot semiconductor research and development production facility in West Lafayette.

Taiwanese semiconductor giant MediaTek announced in June that it will also partner with Purdue to create a new semiconductor design center in West Lafayette. The company—which develops chips for cell phones, TVs, and other devices—will work with Purdue on research surrounding chip designs.

“We feel, profoundly, our responsibility to turn out as many high-class new talents for this state and this nation as we can, and we’ve grown quickly in order to do that,” Daniels said of the ongoing investments in semiconductor technology at Purdue. “I do truly believe that this will be the center of semiconductor advance and production in the decades ahead.”

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