CAN A MASSIVE federal effort to bolster national security in the semiconductor sector also boost the tech economy in the Northeast? That’s the idea behind a sprawling, multistate partnership of 85 organizations that submitted an application this week to the Department of Defense for funding to support defense-related semiconductor research and manufacturing.
The feds will award a total of $1.6 billion over five years to nine regional hubs across the country that will focus on one or more of six areas, including developing new 5G/6G networks, AI hardware, and electronic warfare. It’s the first request for proposals to come out of the 2022 CHIPS and Science Act, a $52 billion bipartisan measure signed by President Biden last August to address growing concern about US reliance on overseas production of computer chips.
“It is all about the ‘reshoring’ of semiconductor manufacturing,” said Christine Nolan, director of the Center for Advanced Manufacturing at the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. “We lost a big percentage of it in the ‘80s, and now only manufacture about 11 percent [of all chips].”
The Tech. Collaborative, a state agency focused on growing the Massachusetts tech sector, is spearheading the regional proposal, which includes companies, universities, and nonprofit entities across all six New England states plus New York and New Jersey.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, who sits on the Senate Armed Services Committee, took the lead on letters to Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin in support of the proposal, one signed by the state’s entire congressional delegation and the other, underscoring the regional collaboration, on which she was joined by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York and Sen. Richard Blumenthal of Connecticut.
“The extraordinary concentration of colleges and universities in the Commonwealth along with existing workforce development partnerships between companies and community colleges uniquely position Massachusetts as a leading supplier of the skilled, innovative workforce that will be crucial to powering this hub,” said the letter from the Mass. delegation.
Gov. Maura Healey has also been touting the proposal. “Massachusetts has long been a leader on innovation and technology. This proposal would build on that legacy by investing in groundbreaking research, programs to train a highly skilled workforce of tomorrow, and resources for new startups and ventures,” she said in a statement.
While the proposed work to bring semiconductor technology from research into manufacturing – “lab to fab” (short for fabrication) has become the mantra – would tap top scientists at MIT, New York University, and other institutions, it would rely on workers at all levels. Community colleges – and even high schools – are part of the workforce infrastructure that would help power a regional hub in the Northeast, Nolan said.
But she said the seeds for that are already planted, pointing to a state initiative that’s already bringing the kind of training needed for jobs in the project to Massachusetts high schools. She cited Fitchburg High School, which has an Innovations Pathway in advanced manufacturing. “They take courses in computer integrated manufacturing, robotics, and 3D printing,” Nolan said.
The regional application hit a bump in the road the day after it was filed. State House News Service reported that a supplemental budget bill passed Wednesday by the Massachusetts House included $585 million in bonding from a bill Healey filed in January, but left out $200 million the governor proposed for matching funds to support CHIPS Act grants.
The grant to the Defense Department was anticipating $40 million in state matching funds, but the door to that money isn’t necessarily closed. House Ways and Means chairman Aaron Michlewitz told the News Service the parts of Healey’s bond bill that weren’t initially passed by the House “are still under consideration.”
The federal government will be looking for proposals that have projects that are “shovel ready,” said Nolan. “And we believe in Massachusetts we are well set up to do that.” She wasn’t ready to handicap the proposal’s chances with a hard number, but said she’s relying on “the power of positive thinking.”
“We have a very strong ecosystem here,” Nolan said. “We’re well positioned.”
Doctor burnout: A survey by the Massachusetts Medical Society of 500 of its members indicates half are experiencing symptoms that reach the threshold for burnout and a similar number are scaling back their hours or walking away from the job. Read more.
Healey selling her tax, budget plan: Gov. Maura Healey stumps for her tax and spending plan, telling a business group that she wants to make Massachusetts competitive and no one will compete harder than her. Later in the day she pitched her plan to a GBH radio audience, toning down the competitive talk and playing up affordability and elimination of taxes that are outliers on the national scene. Read more.
Missing women: Brooke Thomson of Associated Industries of Massachusetts says many women have gone missing from the workforce and state and business leaders need to remove impediments to returning to the workplace. Read more.
FROM AROUND THE WEB
Lt. Gov. Kim Driscoll is leaning into the new administration’s push for more housing, inserting herself into an effort to win approval for a big apartment construction project in Braintree. (Boston Globe)
Beacon Hill leaders will be debating how far to go with state funds to fill the hole being left by federal pandemic relief funds that are drying up. (Boston Globe)
Howie Carr wonders why the high and mighty House speaker, Ron Mariano, is headlining a fundraiser for a low-rent local official in Holbrook. (Boston Herald)
Youth violence is increasing in Boston. (Boston Globe)
The Herald takes its annual dive into City of Boston payroll data, finding a sizable cohort of city employees earning more than $200,000 a year, and 49 who took home more than $300,000.
Framingham Democrats chair Michael Hugo is resigning from his post after outcry about comments he made about children with disabilities during a recent abortion debate. (MetroWest Daily News)
Marianne Harrison will step down in April as CEO of financial giant John Hancock, with Brooks Tingle, who runs the firm’s insurance division, tapped to succeed her. (Boston Globe)
State Auditor Diana DiZoglio says she’s launching an audit of the problem-plagued MBTA, which will include a focus on “safety risk management.” (Boston Globe)
Repair cafes are popping up where volunteers fix things for neighbors so items don’t just end up in landfills. (WBUR)
Two Brockton Registry of Motor Vehicles (RMV) workers are facing extortion and mail fraud charges after allegedly taking bribes in exchange for passing road test scores. (MassLive)
Greenfield police are ending overnight shifts to save money for the cash-strapped department struggling to bring in new recruits. (MassLive)
Former congressman Brian Donnelly, a Dorchester Democrat who served in Congress from 1979 to 1993 and later served as US ambassador to Trinidad and Tobago, died at age 76. (Boston Globe)