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Semiconductor firm eyes Rogue Valley

Plant could bring 1,000 jobs

A major semiconductor manufacturer is looking at the Rogue Valley amongsites in four states for a $2.5 billion fabrication plant that could employ1,000 people.

The development was mentioned Thursday at a meeting of economic developmentadvocates called by Sen. Ron Wyden.

We've done all the informal stuff and have received a formal letterof inquiry, seeking a data sheet on the area, said Bruce Laird, regionalrepresentative for the Oregon Economic Development Department.

He said the decision by BOC Gases to build a distribution plant in WhiteCity was a factor because BOC supplies the semiconductor company with productiongases. BOC will break ground on its site in Whetstone Industrial Park Sept.2. He declined to identify the semiconductor company.

It's a funny thing what happens when you get momentum, hesaid. It's just the same as what happened when the big-box retailersdecided we were a reasonable location. Now it's manufacturing. The natureof the people calling is changing dramatically.

Laird congratulated Wyden on his efforts to get United States Cellularto commit to building a Western regional service center in Medford. Thecenter, announced last month, is expected to employ up to 400 people withinthe next two years.

We got to the point where we couldn't get it closed, he said.Senator Wyden made a personal phone call to (U.S. Cellular chief executive)Don Nelson late in the evening. He made it happen.

The deal was high-centered over a state tax on intangible assets ­including federal licenses ­ of cellular companies. The issue was resolvedthrough the efforts of Wyden, Gov. John Kitzhaber and others.

Wyden, in turn, praised the efforts of Laird and Southern Oregon EconomicDevelopment Inc. executive director Gordon Safley and the public and privateadvocates who campaigned for the service center project.

Wyden said the role of a congressman is limited, that the jobs are createdby the private sector.

We are in the climate-setting business in taxation, regulations,transportation and health care, providing an environment where folks likeyou can go out and do your thing, he told an audience of 50.

Safley said the recent successes have come about because advocates fromJackson and Josephine counties' public and private sectors are pulling together.

It was different three or six years ago when we lost Harper's,we were a bridesmaid, he said. We didn't have everybody at thetable. (Harper's Inc. passed over the Rogue Valley to build an officefurniture plant in Post Falls, Idaho.)

Other positive factors include the opportunity to provide incentivesin a recently created enterprise zone and the advantages of Jackson County'sForeign Trade Zone in international trade.

Wyden asked what else needs to be done to encourage economic development.He got several responses:

Congestion at both Medford freeway interchanges is curtailing developmentopportunities, said Medford attorney Stu Foster, a member of the OregonTransportation Commission.

The Environmental Protection Agency's plans to toughen air quality standardspose a threat to individuals as well as industries in the West, said BillHaas, executive director of the Chamber of Medford/Jackson County.

Gary Miller of US West Communications said additional phone lines areneeded to fully serve Oregon's communities. He noted that a slide last wintercut the one line that linked Grants Pass to the long-distance world.

Rich Berman, a Medford attorney who chairs the SO-REDI Marketing Committee,urged Wyden to mention Southern Oregon when he's talking to Willamette Valleybusinesses that are considering a move out of state.