Rep. Janelle Bynum, D-Clackamas, keeps a ceramic winged pig on her desk in the Oregon House.
Bynum collects pigs with wings, she explained to her colleagues on Thursday, because she believes in the possibility of the Legislature accomplishing great things.
“I’m an optimist,” she said. “They say when pigs fly, something will happen, so that’s why I keep the pig.”
That pig took flight – with a boost from Bynum – on Thursday afternoon as the state House passed the $210 million Oregon CHIPS Act, a semiconductor funding bill Bynum and other supporters view as a once-in-a-generation opportunity to secure the state’s future in the tech industry and guarantee high-paying jobs for thousands of Oregonians.
The Senate passed the measure, Senate Bill 4, last week, and Gov. Tina Kotek intends to sign it. It’s intended to give Oregon businesses a leg up in applying for some of the $52 billion in federal funding made available by last year’s CHIPS and Science Act.
“We’ve never had this kind of pro-business, pro-worker, pro-Oregon collaboration in recent history,” Bynum said. “We’ve never had this.”
The measure includes $190 million in direct grants and loans for semiconductor companies seeking federal funding to expand in Oregon, as well as $10 million for research at universities and $10 million to help with land development costs.
It would let Kotek designate some land outside urban growth boundaries – the invisible line that governs where cities can expand – as industrial land that can be annexed for semiconductor plants or other advanced manufacturing. Hillsboro, the Oregon headquarters of Intel and hub of the state’s semiconductor industry, is seeking to annex hundreds of acres of farmland for a major manufacturing facility.
Concerns about protecting farmland were behind most opposition to the measure. Nine mostly rural Republicans and one Democrat voted against the bill.
“Several decades from now, we may not want or even need microchips,” said Rep. Bobby Levy, R-Echo, who voted against the bill. “People will always need food, and paving over farmland to create industrial sites destroys it for hundreds of years without the possibility of reversal.”
Rep. Anna Scharf, R-Dallas, another opponent, suggested that Kotek look at repurposing golf courses instead of farmland. She named several in the Hillsboro area.
‘We can’t fail’
Overall, the Legislature’s work on semiconductors has been bicameral and bipartisan, with Rep. Kim Wallan, R-Medford, leading House Republicans on the issue. Wallan said she knew next to nothing about semiconductors before last summer, when she started to hear about new cars sitting on docks unable to be sold because they were missing microchips and dishwashers that couldn’t be fixed because of a chip shortage.
Despite having a microchip manufacturer, Rogue Valley Microdevices, in her district, Wallan said she didn’t learn until last summer that Oregon was the third-largest producer of microchips, after Taiwan and South Korea. With her interest piqued, Wallan closely followed the federal CHIPS and Science Act and eagerly tuned into a virtual meeting with Bynum, former Gov. Kate Brown and business leaders who participated in the state’s semiconductor task force.
“We can’t fail,” Wallan said. “There are going to be obstacles. There are going to be barriers. There are going to be places where we didn’t go far enough and maybe places where we went too far.”
The House’s vote followed a Wednesday visit from U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, head of the federal department that will oversee the federal spending. Raimondo repeatedly praised Oregon’s commitment to the semiconductor industry, saying the state is poised to be extremely competitive.
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