Picture: BLOOMBERG
Picture: BLOOMBERG

Samsung Electronics has decided to build an advanced US chip plant in Texas, a win for the Biden administration as it prioritises supply-chain security and greater semiconductor capacity on American soil.

South Korea’s largest company has decided on the city of Taylor, about 50km from its existing huge manufacturing hub in Austin, a person familiar with the matter said. A Samsung representative said it had not made a final decision and declined further comment.

Samsung is hoping to win more American clients and narrow the gap with Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing. Its decision, which came months after de facto leader Jay Y. Lee was released from prison on parole, follows plans by TSMC and Intel to spend billions on cutting-edge facilities globally. The industry triumvirate is racing to meet a post-pandemic surge in demand that has stretched global capacity to the max, while anticipating more connected devices from cars to homes will require chips in future.

The new plant will augment Samsung’s already sizeable presence in Austin, where it has invested about $17bn to date on a sprawling complex that houses more than 3,000 employees and fabricates some of the country’s most sophisticated chips. Samsung’s planning to invest another $17bn and create about 1,800 jobs over the first 10 years, according to documents the company submitted to Taylor officials.

The Asian giant is taking advantage of a US government effort to counter China’s rising economic prowess and lure home some of the advanced manufacturing that in past decades has gravitated towards Asia. That ambition crystallised after a global chip shortage hobbled the tech and auto industries, cost companies billions in lost revenue and forced plants to furlough workers, exposing US vulnerability to diversified supply chains.

Best way to compete

In June, US President Joe Biden laid out a sweeping effort to secure critical supply chains, including a proposed $52bn to bolster domestic chipmaking. His administration has repeatedly voiced the need to increase chip production in the US, saying that was the best way to compete with China and mitigate supply-chain disruptions like the one stemming from Covid-19 19.

Last month, the US created an “early alert system” to detect Covid-related shocks. It has asked producers and consumers of semiconductors to complete a survey about inventories, demand, and delivery systems, to identify potential issues.

Recently, Intel’s troubles ramping up on technology and its potential reliance in the future on TSMC and Samsung for at least some of its chipmaking have underscored the extent to which Asian giants have pulled ahead in recent years. The administration discouraged Intel from pursuing plans to operate a factory in Chengdu, China to manufacture silicon wafers.

The White House has called on Democrats in the House of Representatives to pass a $52bn bill known as the Chips Act, which would fund domestic semiconductor research and manufacturing.

Administration officials have pointed to the bill when pressed about security concerns in Taiwan, the world’s foremost chip producer. Commerce secretary Gina Raimondo said Congress should pass the legislation as “quickly as possible” when asked if the US needed a clearer defence strategy related to the island.

Samsung adds to a growing list of companies moving to or expanding in Texas. In the last year, electric carmaker Tesla said it would move headquarters to the state, as did Oracle and Hewlett Packard. Samsung’s move would be a win for Texas Republican governor Greg Abbott, who has long touted the Lone Star state’s business-friendly tax policies and is gearing up for a re-election battle next year. 

The local government pulled out the stops to snag Samsung, including waiving 90% of property taxes for a decade, and 85% for the following 10 years.

Samsung itself has been accelerating investment activity since Lee was released from jail, where he was serving time for corruption. It unveiled a commitment to bolster South Korea’s economy by spending $205bn and expand hiring to 40,000 people over the next three years.

It is going head to head in Intel’s backyard with TSMC, which is on track to start production on its own $12bn chip plant in Arizona by 2024. Samsung is trying to catch TSMC in the so-called foundry business of making chips for the world’s corporations — a pivotal capability given a deepening shortage of semiconductors in recent months.

Samsung’s envisioned US foundry will adopt ASML Holding NV’s extreme ultraviolet lithography equipment. The company, which has struggled with poor yields on advanced chip processes for years, has been improving and accelerating its capacity expansion at home.

It aims to mass-produce 3-nanometer chips via so-called Gate All Around technology in 2022, employing what some regard as game-changing technology that can more precisely control current flows across channels, shrink chip areas and lower power consumption. Rival Intel has pledged to retake its industry lead by 2025.

Bloomberg News. More stories like this are available on bloomberg.com

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