AUSTIN (KXAN) — In addition to bringing more than 2,000 jobs and bolstering the Central Texas economy, experts say Samsung’s $17 billion semiconductor manufacturing plant will help support national security efforts, too.
“We were very excited. This is just a strategic move,” said William Inboden, Executive Director of the William P. Clements, Jr. Center for National Security at The University of Texas at Austin. “It’s really important for helping maintain our national security edge.”
For years, he and other security experts have watched with concern as the United States made up less of the global share of semiconductor manufacturing. According to an industry report published in 2020, the U.S. accounts for 12%, while countries such as South Korea, Taiwan and China increased their share of the manufacturing capacity. That’s compared to 1990, when the U.S. accounted for 37% of the global manufacturing capacity.
Inboden said efficiency and cost were major factors in the shift, but he insists the long-term benefits of increasing domestic production will pay off from a security standpoint.
“You can’t put a price on national security,” he said. “Just about every aspect of American national security strength depends on semiconductors.”
From missile technology to military communication systems, he said it’s imperative this technology — and the supply chains that support it — are secure.
“China uses those parts of the supply chain for espionage, it’s own intelligence collection and sometimes for potential sabotage, so that was a real vulnerability for us,” he said. “This is not just a worry or a fear—this is something we have seen China doing in a number of cases already.”
At the Governor’s mansion on Tuesday, after the Samsung plant was announced, Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) emphasized the threat of over-relying on other countries for chip technology.
“I think what we have seen through COVID-19 is exposure of the vulnerable supply chains that have affected us in so many ways, so, time is of the essence,” Sen. Cornyn said.
Last year, he helped introduce Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors for America Act (CHIPS for America Act), bipartisan legislation that would invest tens of billions of dollars in semiconductor manufacturing and research incentives and over the next decade.
Then, on Wednesday, one day after the Samsung announcement, he and 33 other lawmakers sent a letter to the Department of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo. They are calling for Texas to be considered for the future sites of two specific, national semiconductor plants: the National Semiconductor Technology Center (NSTC) and National Advanced Packaging Manufacturing Program (NAPMP).
- Read the letter here
“The history of semiconductors is incomplete without Texans. From the 1958 invention of the integrated circuit in Dallas to the revitalization of the U.S. semiconductor market in the 1980s at SEMATECH in Austin, our State has a rich history as a leader in semiconductors since the industry’s inception. Texas is home to over 200 semiconductor installations employing over 40,000 at some of the world’s largest semiconductor companies,” the letter read.
They also emphasized the importance of having multiple Tier I research institutions from which to draw talent.
Inboden said that talent pool should be a big draw for companies, relying on the knowledge infrastructure that already exists in Central Texas and focusing on building out the physical infrastructure.
The 2020 semiconductor industry report noted that by 2030, the U.S was only projected to add 6% to the new global market capacity, compared to China projected at 40%. Still, Inboden said quality was more important than quantity.
“What matters most is that we be leading in producing the next generation, the most advanced,” he said.
He said industry experts were pleased to hear Samsung’s intention to focus on that kind of advanced technology.
“It’s a South Korean company, of course, which Korea is one of our strongest allies, but the production will be here in Central Texas. So, that gives a lot more protection against some of those supply chain disruptions, which can just make America so vulnerable.”