Clackamas Democrat Janelle Bynum displays a porcelain flying pig on her desk in Salem. On Thursday(April 4, 2023), Bynum explained to her colleagues why she collected flying pigs: the prospect that the Legislature may do amazing things.
“I’m an optimist,” she said. “They say when pigs fly, something will happen, so that’s why I keep the pig.” The $210 million Oregon CHIPS Act, a semiconductor funding bill that Bynum and other supporters see as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to secure the state’s future in the tech industry and guarantee high-paying jobs for thousands of Oregonians, was passed by the state House on Thursday afternoon, allowing the pig to take flight.
Senate Bill 4 was approved by the Senate last week, and Governor Tina Kotek says she plans to sign it. It’s meant to help Oregon companies compete for a share of the $52 billion in federal cash made available by the CHIPS and Science Act last year.
“We’ve never had this kind of pro-business, pro-worker, pro-Oregon collaboration in recent history,” Bynum said. “We’ve never had this.” To encourage the semiconductor industry in Oregon, the federal government will provide $190 million in direct grants and loans, $10 million for university research, and $10 million to help with land development expenditures.
For sophisticated manufacturing like semiconductor factories, this would allow Kotek to annex property outside urban development limits (the invisible line determining where cities may expand). Hundreds of acres of farmland are being eyed for annexation by Hillsboro, Oregon, the home of Intel and the state’s semiconductor industrial core.
Much of the resistance came from those worried about the loss of agriculture. Nine Republicans from rural areas and one Democrat opposed the measure.
“Several decades from now, we may not want or even need microchips,” said Rep. Bobby Levy, R-Echo, who voted against the bill. “People will always need food, and paving over farmland to create industrial sites destroys it for hundreds of years without the possibility of reversal.”
Another opponent, Republican Representative Anna Scharf of Dallas, proposed that Kotek consider reusing old golf courses instead of cropland. She listed some places in the Hillsboro region.
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Rep. Kim Wallan (R-Medford) has been the House Republican leader on semiconductors, although both chambers’ efforts have been bicameral and nonpartisan. Wallan claims she didn’t learn anything about semiconductors until last summer when she heard that a scarcity of microchips was preventing the sale of brand-new automobiles and the repair of dishwashers.
Wallan said that she didn’t find out until the summer before last that Oregon was the third-largest producer of microchips in the world, behind only Taiwan and South Korea, despite having a microchip company, Rogue Valley Microdevices, in her district. The federal CHIPS and Science Act attracted Wallan’s curiosity.
She attended a virtual conference with Bynum, former Governor Kate Brown, and corporate executives involved in the state’s semiconductor task committee with great attention. It’s impossible to fail, Wallan emphasized. There will be challenges. There will be obstacles to overcome. We may have gone too far in some areas and not gone far enough in others.
U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, who heads the government agency to monitor federal expenditure, visited the House on Wednesday, prompting the vote. Raimondo has lauded Oregon’s dedication to the semiconductor sector, claiming the state is ready to compete at the highest levels.
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