Intel deal will change Ohio, but questions remain

About 30 years ago, when Les Wexner announced his plans for New Albany, he reportedly said that if current residents were to leave and return in 20 years, they wouldn’t recognize the place. And he was right. A forest has become a country club. Some orchards and farmlands have become uptown. And now, instead of corn and soybeans, New Albany is where the overprivileged offspring of bankers, insurance executives and lawyers are grown. I know this because I have lived in New Albany for 17 years and raised my own underprivileged children there for about as long. Say what you will about the visionaries who wanted to transform New Albany — and I certainly – but they kept their promises.

On Friday, the world learned that New Albany was about to be transformed again. This time because Intel is committing $20 billion, to begin with, to build a mega-site for semiconductor manufacturing here. Get a load of what Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger Recount Time about the project and see if this sounds familiar:

When asked: Will the current residents of New Albany recognize their small town in what he envisions for the future, Gelsinger replied, “New Albany today versus the mega high-tech manufacturing hub of heart of the country in five years? he said. “Yes, it will be unrecognizable.”

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While I’m generally skeptical of politicians’ and business leaders’ claims about the impact of public/private development projects – they almost always overstate it – in this case I tend to believe the Intel CEO .

Just look anywhere else Intel built chip factories, whether in Arizona, Oregon, or New Mexico, to see how important this all was. New Albany – and the several thousand acres of Licking County it annexes for Intel’s new factory – will soon undergo massive change as a result of this project. Indeed, the scope of all of this is so vast and the size of the investment so large, it is going to affect the whole region significantly. A region to which Gelsinger refers in this Time interview as the new “Silicon Heartland”. (I personally wish he’d gone with the far superior “Silicorn Valley,” but I’ll give up because I’m definitely picking up what he planned.)

This is the private side. What about the public side of this massive investment? Regarding this, we hear much less. Of course, Ohio politicians are taking a big victory lap on all of this – Rep. Troy Balderson said last week“I want to do some backflips here and run, start dancing” – but public officials haven’t been particularly open about what they promised Intel in return for the company coming here.

We know the state plans to spend more than $1 billion on infrastructure, but beyond a reference to widening State Route 161, they have yet to provide specifics. They have also so far declined to say what kinds of tax credits and other incentives Ohio has promised the computer chip giant. Presumably Intel will benefit from a new state law that allows 30-year tax credits for “mega projects” as opposed to the standard 15-year credits, but what do they get else and how much will we pay for it?

It should also be noted that chip plants consume a huge amount of water to operate. Where does the water come from and who pays to bring it to western Licking County? Additionally, while chipmaking is generally described as “clean” manufacturing, the process requires a ton of hazardous chemicals, and neighbors of existing Intel factories have complained about air quality issues. Is Intel getting any regulatory breaks here? Will people living near the plant be negatively impacted?

While we’re asking questions, is it rude to ask for some sort of realistic projection of what the true economic impact of this new facility will be? I admit it will be quite big, but the kind of claims thrown around in the wake of last week’s announcement (tens of thousands of jobs, both in and around the plant! Another potential investment of $100 billion from Intel over the next few years!) seem decidedly optimistic.

Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted said Friday the project will provide “a good return on Ohio’s investment” and represents “a tide that lifts all boats” as it will create an entirely new manufacturing industry sector. semiconductors and related products. providers throughout the state. Will there be liability for such claims? That may be asking a lot, but given Ohio’s recent record when it comes to giving things away to private companies – and given a multi-billion debacle on a project in Wisconsin which was once spoken of in the same terms as is spoken of now – it doesn’t seem unreasonable to ask for fewer backflips and more cues.

I don’t want to party here. Ohio has been losing manufacturing jobs for a few decades now, and the state lags many other places when it comes to public and/or private investment in emerging industries and the tech sector. In light of this, building a giant semiconductor factory is a big deal. This is great news for Central Ohio and for the state as a whole. But the announcement that Intel was coming to New Albany and the big party everyone threw last week were just the beginning. Now comes the part where our government has to govern. When he tells us everything we need to know about his relationship with the area’s newest resident, how he lured them here, and how he plans to treat him – and the rest of us – now that he’s here.

As anyone who has lived in New Albany for a few decades can tell you, transforming a place can be quite a messy business. Not everyone was happy with the way he was transformed the first time around. Maybe it’s worth being more careful the second time around.

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