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College and university leaders discuss potential impact of CHIPS Act

Rep. Paul Tonko hosted a panel discussion on the CHIPS and Science Act Wednesday at HVCC
Lucas Willard
Rep. Paul Tonko hosted a panel discussion on the CHIPS and Science Act Wednesday at HVCC

College and industry leaders met for a roundtable Wednesday to discuss how the Capital Region is preparing for and will be impacted by investments from the $280 billion CHIPS and Science Act, which was signed into law by President Biden on Tuesday.

Democratic Congressman Paul Tonko celebrated the bill that is aimed at boosting the semiconductor industry and making the U.S. more competitive with a roundtable panel at Hudson Valley Community College.

“People say, ‘Why such a big deal about the CHIPS thing?’ I say, well, because it is a big deal, whether it's our phones or our automobiles or our televisions or our Wi Fi, it's all about chips,” said Tonko.

Included in the package is Tonko’s Microelectronics Research for Energy Innovation Act.

“That will enable the DOE [Department of Energy] to invest in research so that we can have the next generation of chips and semiconductor activity work through DOE research. And they’ll establish four centers for microelectronics research in the country,” said Tonko.

In addition to representatives from GlobalFoundries and IBM, Wednesday’s panel featured the leaders of several regional colleges and universities.

The CHIPS Act includes $52 billion for domestic semiconductor manufacturing, and is also intended to support research and workforce development.

Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute President Dr. Martin Schmidt has been involved in studying semiconductor technology for decades, beginning as a graduate student at MIT in the 1980s. Since that time, foreign countries have eclipsed the U.S. in manufacturing the advanced technology.

Schmidt said one of the greatest challenges in educating for advanced fields is having students prepare for careers that may not exist in the U.S. But he says New York is in a position to change that.

“And the CHIPS Act, the activity in the Capital Region create that opportunity to excite the next generation students to choose this as a career into the future,” said Schmidt.

Hudson Valley Community College is currently undertaking a $12.5 million expansion at its campus in Malta. The HVCC North campus is next to the GlobalFoundries world headquarters.

Dr. Roger Ramsammy, HVCC President, said the facility’s expansion will allow for more collaborations with the chip fab to train thousands of students for jobs in high-tech.

“There will be a very specialized high-tech clean room that is actually going to be built inside of this new expansion that will service GlobalFoundries and we’re excited about it,” said Ramsammy.

GlobalFoundries, which already employs 3,000 workers in Saratoga County, is planning to build a second fab at its Luther Forest location.

The University at Albany is preparing to educate students for high-tech careers through the Albany Artificial Intelligence Supercomputing Initiative. The Albany AI project received $75 million in the most recent New York State budget to support work to transform the former Albany High School into the college’s new Engineering and Applied Sciences building.

SUNY Albany President Dr. Havidan Rodriguez spoke about the Albany AI program Wednesday.

“Which aims to offer artificial intelligence programs across the entire curriculum at the University at Albany. So, our growing capacity in AI will be a significant asset to the preparation of our regional workforce and will spur economic development and scientific inquiry and discovery,” said Rodriguez.

Leaders including Rep. Tonko and Majority Leader Chuck Schumer want to establish the Albany Nanotech Complex as the first National Semiconductor Technology Center.

SUNY Poly has campuses at both the Albany Nanotech Complex and in Utica.

According to SUNY Poly Interim President Dr. Tod Laursen, because the college has two campuses it’s allowed for innovation at a regional level.

Wolfspeed is preparing to begin production at its new billion-dollar fab in Utica. Dr. Laursen said the company undertook early manufacturing efforts at Albany Nanotech as it was readying the Utica site.

“And it's enabled us to sort of replicate the sort of educational programs that we've had 20 years of success with here, there and adapt them appropriately to new partners,” said Laursen.

The college and university leaders agreed that the region is uniquely positioned to benefit from the CHIPS and Science Act.

Lucas Willard is a reporter and host at WAMC Northeast Public Radio, which he joined in 2011.
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