Cree aims to start operations in Marcy in 14 months

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MARCY — It will likely be 2029 before the Cree nanofabrication facility will reach its peak projected employment number of 614, but there will be plenty of hiring well before then, company representatives told a full-house audience at the town hall Monday evening.

The Durham, North Carolina-based semiconductor company held a public meeting with the town of Marcy and Exyte, the company designing and building the 450,000-square foot factory making components for the automotive, communication and power industries.

Also on hand were Oneida County representatives and those of Mohawk Valley EDGE, which have been trying to lure the semiconductor industry by preparing and marketing the Marcy nanotechnology site near the campus of SUNY Polytechnic Institute for nearly 20 years. The Marcy town court room was filled and the reception was generally favorable, with questions about truck traffic in and out of the site, its use of hazardous chemicals, and the jobs promised.

A summary on display said the main fab building will comprise 450,000 square feet over four levels on a footprint of 150,000 square feet. There will also be an administrative building of 85,000 square feet on four levels, complete with a cafeteria and gym, and a utility building on two levels of 100,000 square feet.

It’s a $1 billion investment
by the company.

At the heart of the operation will be a 112,000-square foot clean room outfitted with state-of-the-art, highly automated equipment for creating tiny electronic circuits on a substrate of silicon carbide, which Cree touts as far more efficient than the
silicon that dominates the industry today.

“It’s really going to be a showplace,” said Vice President of Operations Rex Felton. “Having a factory up here in Marcy is a game changer for us.”

The presentation was held as the Marcy Planning Board begins site-plan review. After the presentation, the board held a brief hearing and fielded questions about the plans. Its next meeting is Feb. 24, and the board could grant conditional approval then, which would allow initial building permits to be issued, though final site plan approval is not likely until at least early summer as Exyte and Cree work through final designs.

At a total company cost of $1 billion, when fully operating, the Marcy fab will give Cree a 30-fold increase in its capacity, which will help it tap an estimated potential worldwide market of $350 billion opportunity in electric vehicles alone. Cree also sells to aerospace, defense, telecommunications— such as in cell-phone towers – and power production industries.

Felton said its products can get more power out of the same array of solar panels, for example, or allow the same electric production out of a less-intrusive solar farm, and can keep tens of millions of tons of greenhouse gases out of the atmosphere by reducing the need for electricity.

Cree was founded in 1987 by five Ph.D. students at North Carolina State University, and its first product was the first commercially available light-emitting diode, or LED, light — dim and blue but it worked, Felton said. LEDs remain an important part of the company’s business, he added.

Cree has received about 3,700 issued patents, employs about 5,300 people at 17 locations worldwide, including facilities in North Carolina, Arkansas and California, as well as overseas, according to the presentation.

As for jobs at Marcy, Felton said about half will be salaried and half hourly. Salaried employees will mostly be engineers with a minimum of a bachelor’s degree, and most of the hourly workers will be technicians maintaining and repairing equipment. He said Cree is working with Mohawk Valley Community College and other two-year schools to help prepare students and is confident it can find enough. It’s recruiting nationally for engineers, though it hopes to hire local people, he added.

Timing is crucial, and ramp-up will be phased, Felton stressed. Having 237 people hired and working by the end of 2023 is an intermediate goal. Cree has about five people working on early versions of its products for customers using equipment at the SUNY Polytechnic campus at Albany.

By April 2021, Cree hopes to have the clean room ready to accept some of the fabrication tools, and by January 2022 aims to ramp up to make products for auto customers. By starting in Albany, the company believes it can meet that deadline. Later, he told local media that meeting the deadlines is crucial but that it has commitments from customers to purchase products.

The construction process was outlined by Lee Ogle of Exyte, the design-build firm hired by Cree to oversee the project. The company has performed $3 billion worth of similar semiconductor-facility construction the past 10 years, Ogle said. So far, site preparation work has been going on, but eventually three large cranes will be used to erect the main facility. Foundation construction could start within weeks, he said.

Cree and Exyte plan to seek LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, from the Green Building Council, Ogle and Felton said.

In response to a question, they said the facility will have extensive systems for monitoring and treating air and wastewater to ensure toxic chemicals used in the manufacturing process are kept out of the environment. Designers have been working with local officials to ensure the facility will not discharge anything that can’t be handled in the local wastewater treatment facility, Ogle added.

Asked about truck traffic Monday, Felton and Ogle said it will definitely increase but be far less than that created by the nearby Walmart distribution center, both during construction and operations.

Marcy Supervisor Brian Scala noted the site was rezoned in 2001. He alluded to Cree’s efforts to be a good local corporate citizen, which has so far included help delivering Christmas turkeys to needy families, and sponsoring events like a youth robotics competition and involvement in the Utica Boilermaker road race.

Scala also pointed to the room’s white board, on which was written: “Welcome Cree to the Town of Marcy Family.”

More immediately, on Wednesday, the Oneida County Board of Legislators is scheduled to consider a $7 million bond issue and capital project to improve roads leading to the site. The work is mainly on Edic Road, which, with Mulvaney Road, would comprise the route from Route 12 to the site. Much of the work is to level out a significant dip on Edic Road as it crosses Gridley Creek and to bring the roads up to standards capable of handling increased traffic.

Cree was lured to Marcy in part by state and local incentives, including $500 million in performance-based capital grants from Empire State Development to reimburse a portion of Cree’s costs of fitting out the new facility and acquiring and installing new machinery and equipment, and a program of payments in lieu of property taxes to Marcy, Whitesboro schools, the Maynard Fire Department and Oneida County with some $22 to $30 million depending on the final building design. Cree would pay up to $69 million over the 49-year term of its long-term lease for the site, which will remain owned by SUNY Poly.

Cree is using a package that state and Oneida County economic-development officials and the affected taxing jurisdictions had agreed on in 2013 to help lure employers to the land set aside in Marcy. It was agreed to then by Oneida County, the town of Marcy, the Whitesboro Central School District, the Maynard fire department and the Dunham Public Library.

The exact amounts of each part of the package are yet to be determined because they depend on how big a facility Cree builds. But estimates are the sales tax exemptions will be worth $22.8 million up to $36.1 million, and the mortgage-recording tax exemption $115,000 to $126,500.

As for the payments in lieu of taxes, estimates are Cree would pay up to $69 million over the 49-year term of its long-term lease for the site.

Of that, the taxing jurisdictions would share in about $18.8 million. As the host community, Marcy would get another about $1.4 million.
 

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