Utilities Can Play a Role in Attracting High–Tech Industry

National Grid supported growth in upstate N.Y.’s “Tech Valley”

Advanced Micro Devices (AMD) announced in June that the company intended to build a semiconductor fabrication plant, known as a “fab,” at the Luther Forest Technology Campus (LFTC) in Saratoga County, N.Y.

AMD’s project is the culmination of more than 11 years of focused, creative and persistent effort by a team of organizations and individuals with a vision for the future. National Grid, an investor-owned utility (formerly the Niagara Mohawk Power Corporation), was an integral part of the marketing and planning efforts that combined to make this dream a reality.

AMD’s new plant should create 1,200 direct technology manufacturing jobs when it’s fully operational, which is expected sometime between 2012 and 2014, and 2,800 construction jobs–plus an additional 4,000 to 5,000 jobs in related companies that will supply and support the new fab.

At full build-out, LFTC could represent more than $18 billion in capital investment and employ 10,000 highly skilled, well-paid employees. It will transform New York’s Capital Region from an area with a great quality of life, but stagnant job and population growth, to a vibrant, booming area that will act as a magnet for young people who want to be part of a cutting-edge, high-tech culture.

The region that has branded itself “Tech Valley” has accomplished much but still has much to do. To create an economic development project of this scale has taken enormous public and private support from state, federal and local governments, utilities like National Grid, universities like University at Albany-SUNY, and industry groups. Planning began in 1998 toward development of the Luther Forest Technology Campus, but the strategy was incubated much earlier.

Evolution of a Winning Strategy

In 1987, a consortium called Semiconductor Manufacturing Technology (SEMATECH) was formed by 14 U.S.-based semiconductor manufacturers and the U.S. government to solve common manufacturing problems by leveraging resources and sharing risks. A nationwide site search was undertaken to find the best location for the headquarters of this new initiative. SEMATECH officials toured New York state and evaluated several communities, but selected Austin, Texas, for their headquarters and R&D hub.

What followed in Austin has been well—documented: 200 semiconductor-related companies, 450 software firms, population growth (from 585,051 in 1980 to nearly 1.5 million in 2005), an expanded tax base and a concentration of young people attracted by high-tech jobs, creating a culture that most mid-sized cities are trying to achieve.

In the following years, the U.S. semiconductor industry recovered, the 150mm wafer gave way to the 200mm wafer, IBM had to downsize and transform itself, and New York state continued to be evaluated by the semiconductor industry, with few or no results.

In 1995, the site location consulting division of Industrial Design Corporation (IDC), now part of CH2M HILL, circulated a request for information (RFI) to locate a Samsung DRAM chip plant somewhere in the United States. Niagara Mohawk, as the utility was known before it was acquired by National Grid in 2002, teamed with the Capital Region Center for Economic Growth, Empire State Development (the state’s development agency) and Saratoga Economic Development Corporation to respond.

Though a quality response was submitted, New York state was once again eliminated from the competition. However, based on interviews with IDC staff, it was determined that New York’s cost structure for semiconductor manufacturers was not a fatal flaw. The team became hopeful that other challenges, like having “shovel-ready sites” and customized training for workers could be met.

Empire State Development wrote a white paper and a new game plan for success was adopted. The team focused on developing a “shovel-ready” site that met minimum industry specifications and marketing the region’s R&D capacity for extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography on 300mm wafers.

Bouncing Back from Adversity

National Grid and the “NY Loves Nanotech” team marketed the region’s assets at industry trade shows like SEMICON West and SEMICON Europa, and at the annual Semiconductor Industry Association meeting in Silicon Valley. In addition to hitting the road with its pitch to the industry, the team hosted industry leaders at the annual Albany Symposium on Global Business Issues in Semiconductors and Nanotechnology, held at Lake George each September.

The marketing paid off in 2002 with the announcement that International SEMATECH and the University at Albany-SUNY would form a $320 million strategic alliance to develop tool infrastructure for extreme ultraviolet (EUV) lithography. This breakthrough led to the location of a $300 million Tokyo Electron R&D operation at UAlbany, making it International SEMATECH’s first “supplier room” tenant.

Much had been accomplished, but the real prize, the location of semiconductor fabs in the region, remained the overarching goal. Without a site tailored to the industry’s needs, the results of the marketing efforts would fall short.

The Answer Comes from a Forest

The Luther Forest Technology Campus was not initially chosen by the Capital Region as a site for attracting semiconductor manufacturing. When the state of New York created “Chip-Fab ’98″ to prepare and pre-permit sites for semiconductor manufacturing, a site in the RPI Technology Park was selected as the region’s primary “Chip-Fab” site, but a group of residents of Rensselaer County felt that a semiconductor fab was not an appropriate development for that area. The Saratoga Economic Development Corporation (SEDC) proposed a 1,350-acre tract of land in the Town of Malta as the centerpiece of the Capital Region’s nano-electronics attraction strategy.

The site, one of the largest tracts of open, flat land in the Northeast, is a relic of the Cold War. During the latter stages of World War II, the U.S. Army used a portion of the site to operate a secret testing facility to duplicate technological advances of German rocket scientists in order to deny those secrets to the Soviets. Planning for large-scale nano-electronics manufacturing was commenced when SEDC pulled together a team of planners, engineers, surveyors, architects, municipal officials, and development experts. National Grid coordinated provision of electric and natural gas infrastructure to the site.

The team worked diligently together for almost two years to gain approval for a zoning change that created uniform Planned Development Districts (PDDs) with eleven development “pods” designated for different activities. Pod One will accommodate four wafer fabrication facilities as large as 3.2 million square feet total, including 250,000 square feet of clean room space per fab. Nearby pods were designated for nano-electronics suppliers and support services, offices and convenience facilities, and a conference center. The LFTC site is located in the Town of Malta and the Town of Stillwater, so approvals were required by both town boards. National Grid provided $750,000 in grants to SEDC for appraisals, vibration studies, aerial mapping and other planning requirements.

Power Plus Planning Equals Results

An adequate, highly reliable supply of electric power is critical to fulfilling the promise of LFTC. In the next 10 to 15 years, the connected load at LFTC has the potential to grow to 160 MVA (an average of 40 MVAper fab). “Computer chip manufacturers are very, very specific in their power reliability requirements,” said Marilyn Higgins, National Grid’s vice president of economic development. “Reliability and capacity are a big part of their decision-making when it comes to choosing location.”

Working with SEDC and other utility providers, National Grid participated in the extensive public review process that resulted in LFTC successfully obtaining necessary approvals under the State Environmental Quality Review Act (SEQRA). This included National Grid’s conceptual plan to provide four separate, above-ground 115 kV feeders, in two new rights-of-way to the Luther Forest site. Plans also include a new substation on site, a collaboration agreement with New York State Electric & Gas (NYSEG), and reinforcements to the transmission system in National Grid’s Northeast Region. Both transmission routes will be 150-feet wide and will require fee-owned, right-of-way acquisition from private landowners.

Upon completion of NanoFab 300 East (seen in an artist’s rendering at left attached to the current complex), UAlbany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering will include more than $3 billion in assets in 700,000+ square feet of space.
Click here to enlarge image

Luther Forest is in close proximity to major transportation corridors and Albany International Airport. Most important is its proximity to the $1 billion nano-electronics research and development hub at UAlbany, now known as Albany NanoTech. Applied Materials, Tokyo Electron and ASML, the largest semiconductor and lithography equipment providers in the world, were attracted to the center.

“This is a critical enabler in the eyes of a chip manufacturer,” said John Frank, senior vice president of M+W Zander. “To be this close to a center of excellence in nanotech research, development, and manufacturing could be a major factor in the success of a new plant.” M+W Zander, in conjunction with the New York State Assembly and Watervliet Arsenal, recently launched the $5 million Center for Construction Trades Training at the arsenal. The center offers hands-on training in setting up state-of-the-art clean rooms and using measurement and production tools required for the near-perfect conditions of nano-manufacturing.

With AMD’s announcement in June, planning in New York’s Capital Region has taken a turn toward planning for potentially explosive growth. Understanding the growth of both AMD and Austin, Texas, is important–and that process commenced during the recruitment of AMD.

National Grid is an international energy delivery business based in the U.K., with principal activities in the regulated electricity and natural gas industries. In the U.S., National Grid delivers electricity to approximately 3.3 million customers in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, upstate New York and Rhode Island. The company also distributes natural gas to 565,000 upstate New York customers. Contact National Grid at ShovelReady@us.ngrid.com. (This article contains quotes from articles previously published in Civil Engineering News and the Albany Times Union.)

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