JOHNSTOWN, Ohio (AP) – Ohio’s largest economic development project comes with a major employment challenge: how to find 7,000 construction workers in an already booming construction environment when there is also a national shortage of people working the businesses.
In hand is the $20 billion semiconductor manufacturing operation near the state capital, announced by Intel earlier this year. When the two factories, known as fabs, open in 2025, the facility will employ 3,000 people at an average salary of about $135,000.
Before that happens, the 1,000-acre site must be leveled and the semiconductor factories built.
“This project had repercussions across the country,” said Michael Engbert, an Ohio official with the International Workers’ Union of North America.
“We don’t take calls every day from members hundreds or thousands of miles away asking about transferring to Columbus, Ohio,” he said. “It’s because they know Intel is coming.”
To win the project, Ohio offered Intel about $2 billion in incentives, including a 30-year tax break. Intel has outlined $150 million in educational funding aimed at growing the semiconductor industry regionally and nationally.
Construction is expected to accelerate after Congress passed last month a package that boosts the semiconductor industry and scientific research in a bid to create more high-tech jobs in the United States and help it better compete with international rivals. Includes more than $52 billion in subsidies and other incentives for the semiconductor industry, as well as a 25% tax credit for companies investing in U.S. chip factories.
For the central Ohio project, all 7,000 workers are not needed right away. They are also just a part of what will be needed, as Intel’s project transforms hundreds of largely rural acres about 30 minutes east of Columbus.
Just six months after Intel unveiled the Ohio operation, for example, Missouri-based VanTrust Real Estate announced it was building a 200-hectare business park next door to house Intel’s suppliers. The site’s 5 million square feet (464,515 square meters) is equivalent to nearly nine football fields. Other projects for additional suppliers are expected.
California-based Intel will rely on lessons learned from building previous semiconductor sites, nationally and globally, to ensure sufficient construction workers, the company said in a statement.
“One of Intel’s primary reasons for choosing Ohio is access to the region’s robust workforce,” the company said. “It will not be without its challenges, but we are confident that there is enough demand for these jobs to be filled.”
Labor leaders and state officials acknowledge that there is currently no pool of 7,000 extra workers in downtown Ohio, where other current projects include a 28-story Hilton near downtown Columbus, a $2 billion addition to the Ohio State medical center. University and a $365 million Amgen. biofabrication factory not far from the Intel factory.
And that’s not counting at least three new Google and Amazon data centers, plans for a new $200 million municipal courthouse south of downtown Columbus, and solar panel projects that could require nearly 6,000 construction jobs alone.
Federal data shows nearly 45,000 residential and commercial construction workers in central Ohio. This number increased by 1,800 from May 2021 to May 2022, which means a future deficit due to current and future demands.
“I don’t know of a single commercial construction company that isn’t hiring,” said Mary Tebeau, executive director of Builders Exchange of Central Ohio, a trade association for the construction industry.
Compensating for the imbalance are training programs, an effort to encourage more high school students to enter pure business and economics. Including overtime, pay for skilled professionals can be as much as $125,000 annually, said Dorsey Hager, executive secretary of the Columbus Building Trades Council.
Or, as Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted, responsible for the state’s economic development, puts it, Intel’s project is so large and profitable that it will create opportunities for people who didn’t see construction jobs in the future.
“When you’re willing to pay people more to do something, you find talent,” he said.
In addition to new and out-of-state workers, some are likely to be pulled from the homebuilding industry, squeezing an already scarce supply of homebuilders, said Ed Brady, CEO of the Washington, DC-based Home Builders Institute.
That creates a risk of housing shortages that could slow down the very kind of economic development Intel is driving, said Ed Dietz of the National Association of Home Builders.
“How do you attract these business investments if you can’t also provide additional housing available for the growing workforce?” he said.
Central Ohio is expected to reach 3 million residents by 2050, a rate that would require 11,000 to 14,000 housing units a year. That was before Intel’s announcement, said Jennifer Noll, associate director of the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission for community development. Meanwhile, the closest the region came to achieving that goal was in 2020, with 11,000 units.
“We know we have some work to do as a region,” Noll said.
Shortage or not, work is underway at and near Intel’s facilities, where parades of trucks roared through rural roads on a recent August morning, as the beeping of several construction vehicles sounded in the distance.
It was just another day for pipe fitter Taylor Purdy, who made his regular 30-minute commute from Bangs, Ohio, for his construction work helping to widen a road that runs alongside the Intel factory.
Purdy, 28, spends his days in the trenches helping to position sewers and water lines. Overtime is plentiful as deadlines approach. Intel’s construction work is in its early stages as flat-earthers remodel the 1,000 acres (400 hectares) of former farms and residential land being turned into an industrial site.
Purdy said he likes the job security of being involved in such a big project. He’s also realized that unlike other jobs he’s worked at, he doesn’t have to explain to people what he’s doing.
“They all know what I’m talking about,” he said.