World Semiconductor Council Meeting Highlights NY's Role in High Tech Innovation

September 16th, 2016

A who’s who of world semiconductor leaders gathered Thursday, May24th, in Saratoga Springs, New York, for the 16th annual meeting of the World Semiconductor Council, a collaborative event at which computer chip-making executives from around the globe discuss ways to grow their industry, potentially laying the groundwork for policies that could have significant impacts on the global economy.

The event is typically held in major world cities—next year’s is set to take place in Lisbon, Portugal—but Saratoga Springs was selected due to the New York Capital Region’s emergence as a key player in high-tech innovation, bolstered by recent remarks and visits from President Barack Obama.

“The whole industry is recognizing the role we play in the semiconductor industry—especially in the advanced technology arena,” said Eric Choh, general manager of the GlobalFoundries computer chip-manufacturing plant in Malta. “We should be very proud.”

That $4.6 billion chip plant—known within the company as Fab 8—was explicitly mentioned by the council’s organizers, the Semiconductor Industry Association, as one of the prevailing reasons for hosting the event in Saratoga Springs, NY. Previous United States gatherings have been held in California’s Silicon Valley.

Another draw for the event was the presence of the New York State University at Albany’s College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering, where chip-making companies and the state have organized a $4.4 billion consortium to develop the next generation of semiconductor manufacturing tools. “That’s where the most advanced research is going on,” said GlobalFoundries CEO Ajit Manocha.

Following a tour of GE’s Turbine Manufacturing plant in Schenectady a year ago, President Obama recently returned to the area, touring the SUNY Albany facility and speaking there on May 8th. The President declared that he wanted to see Albany’s success in using public-private partnerships to foster innovation and job growth replicated throughout the United States.

Semiconductor Industry Association President Brian Toohey said that people are trying to build “innovation clusters” like that of New York State’s Capital Region all over the world. “It’s really an extraordinary story,” he said.

Established in 1996 to promote international cooperation in the semiconductor sector in order to enhance the industry’s long-term growth, the council—comprising representatives from the U.S., China, Chinese Taipei, Europe, Korea and Japan—discussed issues ranging from worldwide intellectual property laws and anti-counterfeiting efforts to trade regulations, all of which they say can be improved in order to foster industry growth.

Council organizers indicated that semiconductors—a critical component in devices like smartphones and tablet computers—are duty-free items that can be imported and exported without additional taxes. But now companies are developing multi-component computer chips that contain multiple semiconductors. Those chips—MCOs—are not currently exempt from some tariffs, which can be as high as 10 percent, according to Freescale Semiconductor CEO Rich Beyer, presenting a challenge for semiconductor companies to be competitive in countries with those restrictions. “We have argued strenuously that these tariff barriers should be eliminated,” said Beyer, adding that regions made progress toward consensus on the subject at the May 24th meeting.

Council delegates will pass their recommendations onto government leaders in their respective regions at an upcoming meeting in Berlin scheduled for September of this year, hoping the governments will adopt policies reflecting these recommendations.