Warner says he’s in ‘active conversations’ about siting semiconductor plants in Virginia

$52 billion in investment expected as CHIPS+ bill passes U.S. Senate

By: - July 28, 2022 12:03 am

U.S. Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA) speaks alongside Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas) and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) following the passage of the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) for America Act on on July 27, 2022, in Washington, D.C. The Senate passed the bill, which would provide $52 billion in subsidies to domestic semiconductor manufacturers, by a 64-33 vote. (Photo by Nathan Howard/Getty Images)

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner said Wednesday he is “in active conversations” about locating semiconductor chip manufacturing facilities in Virginia.

“My hope is that with my work on this we can secure one of those factories in Virginia,” he said during a press call touting federal legislation, passed by the Senate later in the day, that commits $52 billion in subsidies to domestic chip manufacturers. 

The so-called CHIPS+ legislation aims to spur the growth of semiconductor manufacturing in the United States, which has fallen over the past few decades. The law passed the Senate on a bipartisan 64-33 vote.

While the United States produced 37% of the global semiconductor supply in the 1990s, “today we’re down to about 12%,” said Warner, citing a figure also marshaled by the Biden administration in support of the law. 

The majority of the world’s chips are currently produced by China, with the most advanced semiconductor manufacturing centered in Taiwan. 

Semiconductors are critical components of technologies from vehicles to appliances to cell phones and computers. Shortages have hit the automotive industry particularly hard, causing carmakers to pause production and constraining supply. 

Policymakers see the nation’s chip manufacturing capacity as not only a supply chain problem but a national security issue. 

“A significant interruption to our supply of semiconductors could cause historic damage to the U.S. economy — damage far greater than the impact of chips shortages on the American auto industry right now — and would undercut our technological competitiveness and military advantages over adversaries globally,” an April 2022 White House document concluded. 

Supporters of CHIPS+ say the $52 billion in investments will spur domestic manufacturing, not only easing supply chain worries but also creating thousands of jobs. 

Virginia is home to a large semiconductor plant owned by Micron in Manassas and has courted other chip manufacturers in recent years, albeit with little success. 

A January 2022 presentation by the Virginia Economic Development Partnership to lawmakers listed four semiconductor projects that Virginia failed to secure in fiscal years 2021 and 2022, largely due to what officials say is a lack of project-ready sites and buildings. All were associated with billions of dollars of investment and thousands of jobs. 

A slide from a January 2022 presentation by the Virginia Economic Development Partnership to the Senate Finance Committee.

They include a $20 billion Intel semiconductor fabrication facility expected to create 3,500 jobs that eventually went to Ohio. 

Asked for details about Warner’s conversations about locating plants in Virginia, spokesperson Valeria Rivadeneira said that “every single time that Senator Warner meets with an executive from a semiconductor company he urges them to consider Virginia when they’re looking at where to make future investments and build new facilities.” 

Rivadeneira said localities can “build on Virginia’s longtime reputation as a great place for business by harnessing remaining COVID-19 relief and infrastructure dollars to make workforce investments and build shovel-ready sites.” 

VEDP spokesperson Suzanne Clark said in an email Thursday that Virginia currently has three megasites — the Southern Virginia Megasite at Berry Hill, the Mid-Atlantic Advanced Manufacturing Center in Greensville County and the Sussex Megasite — that can support new manufacturing, research and development projects, with eight additional sites of over 1,000 acres in its development pipeline. 

“We are actively working project opportunities in the semiconductor industry, underscoring the importance of investing in sites,” she wrote. “Funding for the Virginia Business Ready Sites Progream increased this year, which will further enhance Virginia’s infrastructure by identifying and assessing the readiness of potential industrial sites to strengthen our portfolio.”

In an April letter to U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, all 13 members of Virginia’s congressional delegation said the state is “an ideal location for future federal investments in semiconductor research and manufacturing.” 

“Virginia has the second highest concentration of technology workers in the US, and net technology employment in Virginia grew by more than 27,000 jobs between 2010 and 2019,” the bipartisan group wrote. 

The CHIPS+ Act will now go to the U.S. House, where Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said it’s expected to garner enough support for passage.

Besides investments in domestic manufacturing, the bill also includes billions of dollars of funding authorizations for scientific research and development activities, including efforts to create regional technology hubs and additional money for national laboratories, which Warner said could benefit the Jefferson Lab in Newport News.

This story has been updated to add comments from the Virginia Economic Development Partnership.

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Sarah Vogelsong
Sarah Vogelsong

Sarah is Editor-in-Chief of the Mercury and previously its environment and energy reporter. She has worked for multiple Virginia and regional publications, including Chesapeake Bay Journal, The Progress-Index and The Caroline Progress. Her reporting has won awards from groups such as the Society of Environmental Journalists and Virginia Press Association, and she is an alumna of the Columbia Energy Journalism Initiative and Metcalf Institute Science Immersion Workshop for Journalists.