Why UT is taking back a semiconductor plant in South Austin
The University of Texas at Austin plans to facilitate research related to the reshoring of semiconductor manufacturing in the United States at a computer chip hub owned by the institution. However, exactly how it will use the facility on the city’s south side remains unclear. The roughly 150,000-square-foot chip plant at 2706 Montopolis Dr. will be vacated by New Mexico-based semiconductor company Skorpios Technologies Inc. by the end of May. The looming end of its lease means it will have to move its factory to another state, which could result in 60 jobs being cut . Austin Business Journal reached out to UT when it broke the news earlier this month about Skorpios’ departure. Now, the higher-education institution has shed some additional light on its objectives. “Regarding the Montopolis site, UT is exploring multiple options for our long-term research mission, which is driven by the reshoring of semiconductor manufacturing and federal research initiatives, including the CHIPS Act,” Mike Rosen , UT-Austin’s assistant vice president for university communications, said in a Feb. 21 email. Rosen did not respond to additional questions. In a way, the change could mean a return to the Montopolis site’s roots in industry research. It was originally home to Sematech, a semiconductor research consortium that left Austin for upstate New York in 2010. The University of Texas has played a big role in the research and commercialization of advanced computing technology. UT is home to the Semiconductor Power Electronics Center , part of the Chandra Family Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering at the Cockrell School of Engineering. The research group designs, builds and tests first-of-a-kind devices and systems. In December, the SPEC completed a two-year project sponsored by the Department of Energy delivering components to the Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee. Alex Huang , the program’s director, said the group is not part of what’s happening at the old Sematech site. The university is also home to the Microelectronics Research Center, an interdisciplinary group that works in fields including advanced component development and process modeling, new device structures for optoelectronic and photonic applications and microwave and millimeter-wave devices. Sanjay Banerjee , the center’s director, confirmed the lab has no plans to move. In addition to Sematech, Austin was also once home to the Microelectronics & Computer Technology Corp., a research consortium where more more than $150 million was spent on supercomputer research that led to the launches of 14 companies. It was the nation’s first consortium for high-tech research and development before industry changes led to its end in the early 2000s . The presence of Sematech and the Microelectronics & Computer Technology Corp. in Austin have been credited with helping lure chipmakers to the region such as Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd., NXP Semiconductors NV and Infineon. Skorpios is disappointed with UT’s decision. Lisa Albrecht , the company’s vice president of operations, said its leaders would have preferred to stay in Austin. The city has strong infrastructure for the semiconductor sector with engineers, facilities, maintenance resources and shipping services. “They notified us that they did not intend to renew the lease,” Albrecht said, but did not disclose when that notification was received. “We spent a lot of resources as far as time and money to be able to stay there and continue the operation. We started a global search. It really came down to what was available. In terms of time, there was not a lot of time. Given a lot of time and notice, we could have built another facility here, but given the quick turnaround on it we had to find a facility that was in place.” The company, which divides its work between manufacturing its own products and contract work, has not yet disclosed where it will move production but Albrecht shared the facility will not be in Texas. Some employees currently working in Austin will be transferred to the new site while others in positions less reliant on location will be able to keep their jobs while staying in Central Texas. She said Skorpios is working with local companies to create job opportunities for those impacted by the move. The company arrived in Austin in 2017 when it bought Novati Technologies LLC, which was then operating out of the site on Montopolis Drive. “We wish nothing but the best for our employees who have been serving us there,” Albrecht said.
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