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After Micron announces the 'investment of the century' in central New York, what happens next?

Micron CEO Sanjay Mehrotra speaking at Syracuse University Tuesday. (Mike Groll / Office Of Governor Kathy Hochul)
Micron CEO Sanjay Mehrotra speaking at Syracuse University Tuesday. (Mike Groll / Office Of Governor Kathy Hochul)

(WRVO) - Now that tech giant Micron has decided to build a mega-complex of computer chip plants in suburban Syracuse, central New York and much of upstate are preparing for the impacts of the $100 billion investment.

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The decision has been called "life-altering," "stunning" and the "investment of the century." So what exactly will the 50,000 expected new employees be doing and where?

First, company president and CEO, Sanjay Mehrotra, explains what exactly the giant tech firm, based in Boise, Idaho, does.

"We use state-of-the-art equipment in vast clean rooms to create impossibly intricate circuits at massive scale," Mehrotra said. "What we do is among the most advanced and difficult manufacturing processes anywhere in the world."

The computer chips they build are needed for everything from smartphones to smart cars, and the market is growing. So, Micron will construct four giant clean rooms at the White Pine Commerce Park in the Town of Clay. They’ll be big. 60 thousand square feet. The size of 40 American football fields. What will be in these buildings? Executive Vice President of Global Operations, Manish Bhatia, says giant pieces of equipment run by artificial intelligence.

"We have systems that decide thousands of process steps," Bhatia said. "Artificial intelligence systems decide where’s the next step in the process. We’re depositing at angstrom level. We’re patterning at nano-meter level. We’re etching feature sizes on the wafer scale that look like skyscrapers in Manhattan in terms of the differential of the feature sizes we’re trying to create. There’s nothing more complex."

Micron expects to hire 9,000 employees to operate this precision equipment over the course of the project.

"There are pieces of equipment we’re going to be buying that cost in excess of $100 million for one piece of equipment," Bhatia said. "So can you imagine how precisely you have to maintain that equipment to make sure you’re keeping high productivity, high quality and high yields all through the factory?"

Micron is convinced it won’t have trouble recruiting those workers. April Arnzen, the chief people officer for Micron, says among the 9,000 employees Micron plans to hire, there will be highly educated engineers and scientists. But there are other opportunities.

"For the scale of the talent we need, we’re going to have to be innovative and create non-traditional pathways for talent to come into tech," Arnzen said. "You think about the tech workforce and you think of four-year degrees and masters degrees, and yes all of that is important. But there is an opportunity to create a new pathway for a workforce to enter into a high-paying tech job through community colleges, through training programs, virtual training programs, just a lot of opportunity to get to these careers in a non-traditional path. This allows people who don’t usually have access to the jobs, to have access to these jobs."

That’s where the robust education system in New State comes into play. From grades K through 12, to higher education according to Onondaga County Executive Ryan McMahon.

"There’s gonna be significant investments made at our colleges and universities by themselves to upgrade their talent pool, to train the engineers of tomorrow," McMahon said. "So you’ll see Syracuse University make strong investments in engineering programs. They’ve already made those commitments. There’s going to be research and development investments with public-private partnerships. There’s going to be many more announcements to come."

Another major point about the workforce; the large presence of veterans in this part of the state is important according to Mehrotra.

"This really fits in well with Micron values of recruiting a diverse workforce, and Micron has a strong history of hiring a strong veteran workforce," Mehrotra said.

All this will take time, with the first chips expected to be produced sometime before the end of this decade. Before that happens though, CenterState CEO President Rob Simpson expects a new wave of investment.

"With this project will come hundreds of supply chain companies," Simpson said. "Just the reality to support a $100 billion investment over 20 years. They’re going to need companies that handle gasses and materials, and do maintenance on their equipment. Companies on advanced computational AI and some of the things that drive the markets that drive the demand for memory. We have had conversations with some of those supply chain companies."

He says now work can begin in earnest to recruit these companies to the area. While site preparation takes up most of 2023, thousands of construction workers will begin building the new facility in 2024. The deal also brings with it $500 million in community investments which Mehrotra expects will affect every person in central New York.

"This investment will not just build a world-class semiconductor facility — it will also enrich Greater Syracuse," Mehrotra said. "We will work together to envision new pathways for educations and investment that will reach the entire community beyond those families who work in and around our fabs."

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