Wanted: 7,000 construction workers for Intel’s chip factories

By ANDREW WELSH-HUGGINS
Associated Press

JOHNSTOWN, Ohio (AP) — With Ohio’s biggest economic development project comes a big jobs challenge: how to find 7,000 construction workers in an already booming construction environment so that there is also a national shortage of people working in the trades.

Within easy reach is the $20 billion semiconductor manufacturing operation near the state capitol that Intel announced earlier this year. When the two factories, known as fabs, open in 2025, the factory will employ 3,000 people with an average salary of around $135,000.

Before that happens, the 1,000 acre site needs to be leveled and the semiconductor factories built.

“This project has had ripple effects across the country,” said Michael Engbert, an Ohio-based official with the Workers’ International Union of North America.

“We don’t get calls every day from members hundreds or thousands of miles asking for a transfer to Columbus, Ohio,” he said. “It’s because they know Intel is coming.”

To win the project, Ohio offered Intel about $2 billion in incentives, including a 30-year tax break. Intel announced $150 million in education funding aimed at growing the semiconductor industry regionally and nationally.

Construction is expected to pick up after Congress last month approved a package boosting the semiconductor industry and scientific research with the aim of creating more high-tech jobs in the United States and help it better compete with its international rivals. It includes more than $52 billion in grants and other incentives for the semiconductor industry as well as a 25% tax credit for companies investing in chip factories in the United States.

For the central Ohio project, the 7,000 workers aren’t needed right away. They’re also only part of what will be needed as the Intel project transforms hundreds of largely rural acres about 30 minutes east of Columbus.

Just six months after Intel disclosed the operation in Ohio, for example, Missouri-based VanTrust Real Estate announced it was building a 500-acre (200-hectare) business park next door to house Intel suppliers. The 5 million square feet (464,515 square meters) of the site is equivalent to nearly nine football fields. Other projects for additional suppliers are expected.

California-based Intel will leverage lessons learned from building previous semiconductor sites nationally and globally to ensure enough construction workers, the company said in a statement.

“One of the main reasons Intel chose Ohio is access to the region’s strong workforce,” the company said. “It won’t be without challenges, but we are confident there is enough demand to fill these jobs.”

Union leaders and state officials acknowledge that there is currently no pool of 7,000 additional workers in central Ohio, where other projects underway include a 28-story Hilton near the downtown Columbus, a $2 billion addition to the Ohio State University Medical Center, and a $365 million Amgen. biofabrication plant not far from Intel’s factory.

And that’s not counting at least three new Google and Amazon data centers, plans for a new $200 million municipal courthouse south of downtown Columbus, and solar panel projects that alone might require nearly 6,000 construction jobs.

Federal data shows about 45,000 residential and commercial construction workers in central Ohio. This number increased by 1,800 from May 2021 to May 2022, signifying a future shortfall given current and future demands.

(asterisk) I don’t know a single commercial construction company that isn’t hiring,” said Mary Tebeau, executive director of the Builders Exchange of Central Ohio, a construction industry trade association.

To offset the imbalance, there are training programs, a push to encourage more high school students to enter trades and pure economics. Including overtime, wages for skilled tradespeople could reach $125,000 a year, said Dorsey Hager, executive secretary-treasurer of the Columbus Building Trades Council.

Or, as Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted, the state’s economic development official, puts it, the Intel project is so big and lucrative that it will create opportunities for people who haven’t seen jobs in the construction in their future.

“When you’re willing to pay people more to do something, you’ll find the talent,” he said.

In addition to new and out-of-state workers, some will likely be pulled from the homebuilding industry, reducing an already insufficient number of homebuilders, said Ed Brady, CEO of the Home Builders Institute. based in Washington, DC.

That creates the risk of a housing shortage that could slow the very kind of economic development Intel is sparking, said Ed Dietz of the National Association of Home Builders.

“How do you attract that business investment if you can’t also provide additional housing available for the growing workforce?” ” he said.

Central Ohio is expected to grow to 3 million people by 2050, a rate that would require 11,000 to 14,000 homes per year. That was before Intel’s announcement, said Jennifer Noll, associate director of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission for Community Development. Meanwhile, the region moved closer to that goal in 2020 with 11,000 units.

“We know we have work to do as a region,” Noll said.

Shortage or not, work is underway at and near the Intel site, where parades of trucks rumbled down country roads on a recent August morning as the beeping of several construction vehicles sounded in the distance.

It was just another day for pipelayer Taylor Purdy, who made his usual 30-minute commute from Bangs, Ohio, to his construction job helping widen a road past the Intel plant.

Purdy, 28, spends his days in the trenches helping to position storm and sanitary sewers and water lines. There are many overtime hours as deadlines approach. Intel’s construction work is in its early stages as earthmoving machinery reshapes the 1,000 acres (400 hectares) of former agricultural and residential land turned into an industrial site.

Purdy said he liked the job security of being involved in such a big project. He also noticed that, unlike other jobs he’s had, he doesn’t have to explain to people what he’s doing.

“They all know what I’m talking about,” he said.