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Taiwan's TSMC begins hiring blitz for $12bn US plant

Chip champion plans to set up 600-strong initial workforce for Arizona facility

TSMC is bringing together veteran employees and new talent to staff its planned chip plant in Arizona. (Source photos by Reuters and TSMC)

TAIPEI -- Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. is aggressively recruiting over 600 engineers and executives for what will be its first U.S. plant in 20 years, Nikkei Asia has learned.

The world's largest contract chipmaker will initially bring together a mix of current employees and new hires to staff a $12 billion chipmaking plant it will start building next year in Arizona, TSMC Chairman Mark Liu told Nikkei. The hiring push comes with American officials and lawmakers calling on semiconductor companies to bring more of their operations to the U.S.

According to Liu, a task force of more than 300 current employees and managers with experience in developing and producing 5-nanometer chips will be dispatched to help get the plant off the ground. Five-nanometer chips are the most advanced in the world and are used in the latest iPhone 12 range and Mac processors. The U.S. has agreed to offer as many working visas as TSMC needs for this purpose, sources familiar with the matter told Nikkei.

In addition, TSMC is recruiting 300 fresh graduates and young engineers with one to two years of experience who are already eligible to work in the U.S., Liu said. The chairman added that TSMC plans to bring these newly hired engineers to the southern Taiwanese city of Tainan, where the company's current 5-nm chip plant is based, for a roughly yearlong intensive training program before they depart for Arizona.

"All the communication and training within this program will be conducted in English to facilitate future coordination," he said.

TSMC's recruitment for the Arizona factory comes as the U.S. ramps up efforts to revive the country's semiconductor manufacturing leadership. Intel, the biggest American chipmaker by revenue, acknowledged in July that it faced significant delays in pushing forward its chipmaking technologies and was considering outsourcing production as a contingency plan. U.S. lawmakers, meanwhile, are finalizing $25 billion in tax incentives to revive local chip production and counter China's rising technological development.

The U.S. still has the world's top chip industry by revenue despite the fact that South Korea and Taiwan now control a significant portion of advanced chip manufacturing capability. According to IC Insights, Asia has become the world's most important chipmaking region, accounting for 75% of the world's semiconductor manufacturing capability. Taiwan alone accounted for 22% of global production, with the majority contributed by TSMC.

The U.S. has also cited security concerns in its push to beef up its domestic semiconductor industry. TSMC is a key chip supplier for Apple and most other chip and tech giants like Intel, Qualcomm and Google, but it also makes chips for U.S. chip designer Xilinx that are used in F-35 fighter jets.

Washington has stepped up pressure on the Taiwanese company to produce its military-use chips in the U.S. to ensure the manufacturing of the high-security components are free from potential Chinese interference, Nikkei Asia first reported last January. TSMC was also forced to give up supplying key customer Huawei Technologies after the U.S. earlier this year slapped tighter trade restrictions on the Chinese tech giant, citing national security risks.

TSMC is not the only Asian chip giant heeding Washington's call. Samsung, TSMC's key rival in the foundry sector, as the business of making chips for others is known, is planning to expand its chip capacity in Texas to lure American clients such as Apple, Google, Qualcomm and Tesla. Samsung shared orders for Apple's iPhone processor chips with TSMC until 2016. Samsung is also the world's biggest memory chipmaker, supplying most device makers.

TSMC announced its intention to build a 5-nm chip plant in Arizona in May. In November, TSMC set up a wholly-owned subsidiary in the state with paid-in capital of $3.5 billion. This was followed late last month by officials in Phoenix, Arizona, approving a development agreement with TSMC that will provide $205 million in city funds for infrastructure such as roads and water improvements. On Dec. 22, Taiwanese regulators approved TSMC's investment in the U.S. 

TSMC said construction of the Arizona factory will start next year and production will begin in 2024. The plant will eventually create more than 1,600 jobs directly and thousands of indirect jobs for the semiconductor ecosystem, the company said. Many TSMC suppliers such as Marketech International Corp., a semiconductor facility builder, as well as leading chip material provider Entegris have all indicated plans to expand in Arizona.

According to TSMC's website it is hiring R&D engineers, process engineers, equipment engineers, IT software engineer and others positions needed to operate an advanced chip plant.

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