Intel is planning to break ground on at least two new semiconductor factories in central Ohio in a project that is being touted as the state’s largest economic development project ever. However, it needs workers.
Though all of them won’t be needed at the exact same time, the project is going to need an initial 7,000 workers total to complete work — and many aren’t sure where those workers will be coming from in the midst of a significant industry labor shortage.
State and labor officials alike note that there aren’t actually 7,000 workers available in the area.
“Construction workforce shortages are severe and having a significant impact on construction firms of all types, all sizes and all labor arrangements,” said Ken Simonson, chief economist for the Associated General Contractors of America (AGC).
The AGC’s annual construction workforce survey noted that 91% of construction firms are having trouble filling their open positions, while the industry as a whole has only a 3.5% unemployment rate — troubling data for Simonson, who says “that essentially means there’s almost nobody out there with construction experience looking for a new job in construction.”
But even still, Intel and industry officials alike are surprisingly bullish on the ability of the project to attract new workers.
“This project reverberated nationwide,” said Michael Engbert, an Ohio-based official with the Laborers’ International Union of North America (LIUNA).
Engbert says that the construction has an inherent attraction given its national prominence. “We don’t field calls every day from members hundreds or thousands of miles away asking about transferring into Columbus, Ohio…It’s because they know Intel is coming.”
General contractor Gilbane Building is handling the factories’ development and has already chosen their first round of partner contractors, with excavation work already well underway at the campus site. But even with the draw of Intel, there’s more going on in the area that is going to draw significantly from the workforce.
According to NPR, new Google and Amazon data centers, a new municipal courthouse in Columbus, and new solar array projects could draw 6,000 construction jobs on their own without taking into account a single worker from the Intel fabrications.
That’s not to mention current projects like a new downtown Columbus Hilton, an addition to The Ohio State University’s medical center, and a new biomanufacturing plant.
There’s also a major concern about housing for the workers that are needed: Missouri-based VanTrust Real Estate plans to build a 500-acre business park next to Intel’s campus in order to house the plant’s workers, a must for attracting workers in the first place.
“How do you attract those business investments if you can’t also provide additional housing available for the growth in the labor force?” asked Ed Dietz of the National Association of Home Builders (NAHB).
State officials are confident regardless of the potential roadblocks. “When you’re willing to pay people more to do something, you will find the talent,” said Ohio Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted.
“One of Intel’s top reasons for choosing Ohio is access to the region’s robust workforce,” an Intel spokesperson said. “It will not be without its challenges, but we are confident there is enough demand that these jobs will be filled.”
With additional government funding, the project’s scope — and labor needs — may grow even larger
The need for workers could potentially grow even larger in the future. For months, Intel has been focused on the project’s two new fabrication factories — but the project may be expanding even further.
“We’re now going to have five fabs,” said Ohio State Senator Jay Hottinger. He said that the U.S. Congress’ recent passage of the CHIPS Act would facilitate the project’s growth in scope. “It makes us the largest chip manufacturer in the world. The opportunities and spinoffs from this will be phenomenal.”
The federal aid to Intel delivered by the CHIPS Act could now reach a total of $100 billion, with Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger saying it’s possible that the company may open a new semiconductor plant every few years at their New Albany, Ohio campus.
This matters a lot for the labor needs on the project, though. The amount of workers necessary to complete five factories would stretch far past the 7,000 needed for the current two factories.
Company officials haven’t made this official, yet, as they’re focused on the construction of the first two factories. However, other company officials have hinted at the possibility of larger construction goals.
“Our permit is actually for four factories, but right now we’re focused on the first two that we announced in January ,” Intel communications and media relations director Linda Qian said.
The company has enough land for up to eight factories — though it’s too early to say that will happen, as Intel would have to jump through additional hoops to get there.
“Adding four factories to the permit does give us the flexibility to move faster,” Qian added. “Now, the [New Albany] site does have the capability to hold eight factories, and so we would need to go through the permit process again if we were to expand to the full eight.”