U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo lauded Oregon’s work to expand the semiconductor industry during a visit to Portland Community College on the eve of the state House passing the $210 million Oregon CHIPS Act.
She joined Sen. Ron Wyden, Gov. Tina Kotek and U.S. Rep. Suzanne Bonamici on a short tour of a mechatronics lab at Portland Community College’s Hillsboro campus, speaking with high school and college students preparing for jobs in the semiconductor industry.
The Commerce Department, which Raimondo oversees, is in charge of distributing $52 billion in federal funding for the semiconductor industry made available by last summer’s passage of the federal CHIPS and Science Act. Oregon, long an industry hub, is in fierce competition with other states for a share of the funding.
Raimondo said it was too soon to commit to sending federal money to Oregon, but she praised the state as “exceptional.”
“Based on what I’ve seen here today, I think you will be extremely competitive,” Raimondo said.
She called out Oregon’s strong semiconductor base – about 15% of the nation’s semiconductor workforce lives in Oregon, though the state is only about 1.3% of the nation’s population. And Raimondo praised the Legislature and Kotek for spending state money on job training, direct investments in companies and selecting manufacturing sites in the Oregon CHIPS Act.
“It’s world class, the way you’re thinking about job training, investments in technology, investments in infrastructure,” she said. “The governor is committed to making permitting streamlined. You’re doing everything right, and we just have to partner with you to help you be successful.”
The state’s main contribution so far has been the Oregon CHIPS Act, a $210 million proposal that passed the Senate last week and is scheduled for a vote in the House on Thursday. It includes $190 million in grants and loans for companies seeking federal funding to expand in Oregon, along with $10 million for research at universities and $10 million to help with land development costs.
The measure would give Kotek the authority to designate some land outside urban growth boundaries – the invisible line that governs where cities can expand – as industrial land that can be annexed for semiconductor plants or other advanced manufacturing. Hillsboro, in particular, is seeking to annex hundreds of acres of farmland that could be used for a major manufacturing facility.
“This is a place where this industry is slated to just boom,” said Bonamici, who represents the area. “We have a skilled semiconductor workforce here in Washington County, but we have tremendous potential to grow.”
The bill doesn’t include a research and development tax credit, which industry leaders have said is crucial, and Kotek said her office is working on that.
“Before the session gets out, we’re going to be talking about more research and development incentives to help those companies,” she said.
From college to jobs
The commerce department’s funding guidelines prioritize projects that will provide training and bring underrepresented populations, including women and people of color, into the tech industry. University and community college leaders who participated in a discussion with Raimondo described how Oregon institutions are already working on that.
Portland Community College, for instance, offers an accelerated 10-day training program in partnership with the city of Hillsboro and Intel to prepare people for entry-level jobs as semiconductor technicians. They earn about $18-$24 with full benefits once hired. The program has a 71% placement rate and a waiting list of 400 students, said college President Adrien Bennings during a roundtable after the tour.
At the Oregon Institute of Technology, with campuses in Klamath Falls and Wilsonville, 96% of students who complete the two-year program find jobs in the field and earn a median income higher than $60,000, university president Nagi Naganathan said at the roundtable.
The challenge for Oregon is keeping those talented students in state, said state Sen. Janeen Sollman, a Hillsboro Democrat and co-chair of the legislative semiconductor committee.
“It’s about keeping our kids here working here in Oregon,” she said. “These are incredibly well-paid jobs with tuition reimbursement and benefits. This is about having a skilled workforce, skilled labor that is here.”
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Julia Shumway is deputy editor of Oregon Capital Chronicle and has reported on government and politics in Iowa and Nebraska, spent time at the Bend Bulletin and most recently was a legislative reporter for the Arizona Capitol Times in Phoenix. An award-winning journalist, Julia most recently reported on the tangled efforts to audit the presidential results in Arizona.