Mass. looks to line up lucrative CHIPS shot
Region makes play for federal grant aimed at jumpstarting US semiconductor sector
CAN A MASSIVE federal effort to bolster national security in the semiconductor sector also boost the tech economy in the Northeast? That’s the idea behind a sprawling, multistate partnership of 85 organizations that submitted an application this week to the Department of Defense for funding to support defense-related semiconductor research and manufacturing.
The feds will award a total of $1.6 billion over five years to nine regional hubs across the country that will focus on one or more of six areas, including developing new 5G/6G networks, AI hardware, and electronic warfare. It’s the first request for proposals to come out of the 2022 CHIPS and Science Act, a $52 billion bipartisan measure signed by President Biden last August to address growing concern about US reliance on overseas production of computer chips.
“It is all about the ‘reshoring’ of semiconductor manufacturing,” said Christine Nolan, director of the Center for Advanced Manufacturing at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. “We lost a big percentage of it in the ‘80s, and now only manufacture about 11 percent [of all chips].”
The Tech. Collaborative, a state agency focused on growing the Massachusetts tech sector, is spearheading the regional proposal, which includes companies, universities, and nonprofit entities across all six New England states plus New York and New Jersey.
“The extraordinary concentration of colleges and universities in the Commonwealth along with existing workforce development partnerships between companies and community colleges uniquely position Massachusetts as a leading supplier of the skilled, innovative workforce that will be crucial to powering this hub,” said the letter from the Mass. delegation.
Gov. Maura Healey has also been touting the proposal. “Massachusetts has long been a leader on innovation and technology. This proposal would build on that legacy by investing in groundbreaking research, programs to train a highly skilled workforce of tomorrow, and resources for new startups and ventures,” she said in a statement.
While the proposed work to bring semiconductor technology from research into manufacturing – “lab to fab” (short for fabrication) has become the mantra – would tap top scientists at MIT, New York University, and other institutions, it would rely on workers at all levels. Community colleges – and even high schools – are part of the workforce infrastructure that would help power a regional hub in the Northeast, Nolan said.
But she said the seeds for that are already planted, pointing to a state initiative that’s already bringing the kind of training needed for jobs in the project to Massachusetts high schools. She cited Fitchburg High School, which has an Innovations Pathway in advanced manufacturing. “They take courses in computer integrated manufacturing, robotics, and 3D printing,” Nolan said.
The regional application hit a bump in the road the day after it was filed. State House News Service reported that a supplemental budget bill passed Wednesday by the Massachusetts House included $585 million in bonding from a bill Healey filed in January, but left out $200 million the governor proposed for matching funds to support CHIPS Act grants.
The grant to the Defense Department was anticipating $40 million in state matching funds, but the door to that money isn’t necessarily closed. House Ways and Means chairman Aaron Michlewitz told the News Service the parts of Healey’s bond bill that weren’t initially passed by the House “are still under consideration.”The federal government will be looking for proposals that have projects that are “shovel ready,” said Nolan. “And we believe in Massachusetts we are well set up to do that.” She wasn’t ready to handicap the proposal’s chances with a hard number, but said she’s relying on “the power of positive thinking.”