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September 21, 2023

Feds pick Massachusetts for new microelectronics hub

A large brick building with columns in front and a gold dome on top with a long staircase leading up to it and an American flag on the left hand side. Photo | Courtesy of Commonwealth of Massachusetts Massachusetts State House

The U.S. Department of Defense on Wednesday chose Massachusetts to lead a regional microelectronics hub, positioning the state for growth in a burgeoning industry that the Healey administration hopes will reach a level of significance akin to the state's life science industry.

The federal government awarded $19.7 million to the Northeast Microelectronics Coalition (NEMC) -- made up of more than 85 organizations across seven states and led by quasi-public agency MassTech -- to go toward "a regional hub that will advance the microelectronics needs of the U.S. Department of Defense while spurring new jobs, workforce training opportunities and investment in the region's advanced manufacturing and technology centers," according to MassTech.

The coalition submitted the proposal in March to the DoD's Microelectronics Commons program, which uses funds from the recently passed CHIPS and Science Act to invigorate the country's domestic semiconductor and microelectronics industry.

The award means NEMC is one of the eight "regional innovation hubs" that the federal government has chosen to invest in to spur the industry. The nearly $20 million coming to the Bay State represents fiscal year 2023's funding, though the DoD plans to invest $2 billion altogether across the program through 2027.

The program is focused on bridging the gap between where products are researched and developed (R&D) and where they are produced.

The U.S. leads the world in microelectronics design, but is only responsible for 12 percent of production globally, according to the defense department. The CHIPS Act, in part, is intended to bring that production from Asia to America to create more jobs and to become more economically independent from the countries where the microchips (which are used for things like computers, cell phones and medical technology as well as military equipment) are mainly manufactured.

"With $2 billion in funding for Fiscal Years 2023 through 2027, the Microelectronics Commons program aims to leverage these Hubs to accelerate domestic hardware prototyping and 'lab-to-fab' transition of semiconductor technologies. This will help mitigate supply chain risks and ultimately expedite access to the most cutting-edge microchips for our troops," according to the defense department.

The coalition aims to build jobs and factories for "all six of the technology focus areas" that the grant program funds -- edge computing security, 5G/6G wireless technology, artificial intelligence hardware, quantum technology, electronic warfare and commercial "LeapAhead" defense technology.

Part of the coalition's pitch in its proposal was that the region would not just focus on R&D but on building out the industry "beyond the lab," to tackle all aspects of developing microelectronics.

Economic Development Secretary Yvonne Hao announced that the coalition was chosen for the award during an appearance at the Boston Globe's Globe Summit 2023 with reporter Jon Chesto. Hao said building complete industries for the development and production of technology, like microelectronics, would bolster Massachusetts' economy and help keep residents and businesses in the state.

"If you're a company that's innovating and starting out at one of our universities in Cambridge or Boston, which is awesome, now you need to build a factory -- you're a climate tech company or life sciences company or a robotics company, you need to build a factory. Wouldn't it be great if you get in your car and drive to North Shore or South Shore or Central Massachusetts or the Berkshires and have your factory there?" Hao said. "By the way, those are great jobs that don't necessarily require a college degree. That will help lift that tide and then the whole state succeeds."

Wilmington-based semiconductor manufacturing company Analog Devices; international defense, aerospace and security company BAE Systems; MIT; Lexington-based national security lab MIT Lincoln Laboratory; Bedford-based national security nonprofit MITRE Corporation; and defense contractor Raytheon are leading the coalition as advisory group members, alongside MassTech.

"We're thrilled that Massachusetts has been selected as a regional hub to support the microelectronics needs of the Department of Defense," Gov. Maura Healey said in a statement. "This is a once in a generation opportunity for Massachusetts to be at the forefront of innovation and this cutting-edge sector. This award will result in new jobs and workforce development opportunities, groundbreaking research development, and resources for business – all right here in Massachusetts."

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