Cree Inc. has hired about 40 people locally for its billion-dollar silicon carbide semiconductor chip factory under construction in Marcy, with plans for about 400 employees by 2024 and 600 by decade’s end, and is likely adding a design center to draw on a wealth of industry expertise from upstate universities, company chief Gregg Lowe said on a visit to the site Friday.
Lowe, the president and chief executive officer, visited the site on Friday with executives with Exyte, the contractor for the fabrication facility. He told the Daily Sentinel the project is on schedule to be occupied this coming spring, with production starting there in 2022.
“We’re actually ahead of schedule in terms of hiring people,” Lowe said.
The company is also considering putting a design center in Marcy because of success with upstate colleges and universities, from SUNY Polytechnic Institute next door and Mohawk Valley Community College, to state and private universities across the state, Lowe said.
Now, the company is moving some personnel from North Carolina but largely hiring locally. ”I would anticipate some experienced people that might be working in Silicon Valley, maybe the Phoenix area or somewhere else might want to move back and move back to their hometown,” Lowe said.
Cree’s factory is the culmination of nearly 20 years of work by Oneida County and state elected and economic development officials to lure a major employer in the semiconductor industry to replace jobs lost through several decades of decline in other manufacturing.
For Cree, the facility will enable it to increase by 30 times its production of silicon carbide semiconductor chips used primarily for powering electric cars and trucks. Using semiconductors made from silicon carbide rather than traditional silicon only can allow vehicles to go 5 to 15% percent farther, Lowe said.
Raw materials are converted to silicon wafers at Cree’s factory near Durham, North Carolina, where it was founded, while the Marcy fab will take the bare wafers and convert them to semiconductor chips for use in vehicles. The devices also can be used in power transmission and communications.
Cree is in the early design phase where makers of cars and electric-vehicle components are choosing to use the company’s products. In the past two quarters, the company exercised $1 billion worth of design agreements, Lowe noted.
By 2024, estimates are 5% of all cars worldwide will be electrically powered, and at least 30% by the end of the decade.
Before production begins in Marcy, Cree is using equipment made available to it at SUNY Polytechnic Institute’s Albany campus, which will help it set up Marcy operations more efficiently, Lowe said.
Equipment will be installed next summer at the Marcy site. Much of the work in the vast factory will be automated, but technicians and engineers are needed. The fabrication equipment includes individual machines worth several million dollars each, so high skill levels are needed to maintain them, Lowe added.
Having several colleges and universities producing engineering and high-level technical graduates close by was a clinching factor in deciding to take up the offer on the site, Lowe said. In addition, the state offered a half-billion dollars in incentives and aid, and the availability of large amounts of reliable electricity was a third deciding factor in expanding in Oneida County rather than closer to the company’s North Carolina base.
Oneida County upgraded the roads leading to the site, and the electrical connections were helped along with a deal arranged by Mohawk Valley EDGE, or Economic Growth Development Enterprises.
Cree will lease the land from the state over 49 years.
Meanwhile, about 30% of the main building is built, said Denis Bacon, vice president of the U.S. division of the Germany-based high-tech facility contractor Exyte. About 400 workers are on site now, but 800 to 1,000 will be there once interior work begins, Bacon said.
“Half the bottom two floors of the structure are precast concrete. They get fabricated off site and get erected kind of like a Lego set,” Bacon said.
“Sometime in January we’ll have the building completely closed in. That’s the work you see going on now … Once you start doing the interior work you got a lot more people in. There’s a lot of work to do inside this building once we get the shell done.”
It was a year ago this coming Wednesday that Cree and state officials announced the decision.
As part of the deal, Cree is to commit to $30 million research and development. SUNY has also committed to match up to $5 million in semiconductor-related research funding from Cree for the SUNY system.
New York State will provide $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 machinery and equipment, as well as $1 million in Excelsior Jobs tax credits.