Syracuse, N.Y. — Every time Onondaga County was rejected for a chip fab, County Executive Ryan McMahon doubled down, bought more land and bet it would help him hit the jackpot someday. On Tuesday, it happened.
Micron Technology On Tuesday, McMahon and a team of bone-weary state, federal and local lawyers announced what they’ve known for weeks: The company plans to spend $100 billion building the nation’s largest chip factory just a few miles away. Syracuse.
The project will create up to 9,000 high-paying technology jobs and up to 40,000 jobs in construction, support services and supply chain companies.
“This is changing the lives of people in our state,” said Gov. Kathy Hochul said.
It took nearly a year and a half of negotiations to win Micron’s favor, and it couldn’t have happened without federal incentives backed by the U.S. Senate. Charles Schumer and government subsidies pushed by Hochul.
But along the way, a team of Micron executives based in Boise, Idaho, experienced smaller moments of getting to know and like Syracuse. Dinner at the Armory. Creekwalk runs along. A trip to the JMA Dome. Conversations with local business owners.
The most difficult negotiations were about money. New York state is a relatively expensive place to build, and Micron’s board would never have approved the project unless the price matched other states like Texas.
McMahon and others say the talks have been strained at times.
But along the way, through all those months of meetings, Central New York granted another Micron request that wasn’t really negotiable: The Micron team decided that Syracuse seemed like a good place to live.
April Arnzen, a Micron senior vice president who was part of the site evaluation team, said she and her colleagues learned to appreciate life in Central New York. In part, it came from small moments like the runs Arnzen and others on the team took along the Creekwalk.
“We investigated. We spent more time here and realized that this is a place where our employees want to be,” said Arnzen, the company’s chief people officer. “You have the opportunity to be in the city, if you like that more urban lifestyle, some of our talent wants to be there. And you have all these great rural communities. So the more time we spent here, the more they sold us.”
Some called it a “failed dream.”
Winning the Micron contract started with land.
Three years ago, during McMahon’s first year in office, the county’s White Pine Commercial Park in Clay was just 339 acres, some of which were unbuildable wetlands.
Since then, McMahon has spent more than $25 million in taxpayer dollars buying land — often in anger and derision — in a “calculated risk” that he says he could build a mega-project big enough to change local history.
Now the site is about 1400 hectares and growing. Last week, the county industrial development agency paid another $3.8 million to add 60 acres, according to property records.
In addition, the district has allocated $200 million to improve the wastewater facilities serving the area.
McMahon has eyed the White Pine landscape for chip manufacturing since 2017, when former National Grid official Marilyn Higgins pointed out to him the site’s unique advantages: robust electric service — a massive 765-kilovolt transmission line runs nearby — plus plenty of direct water from Lake Ontario.
McMahon was convinced that all he had to do was make the site big enough that he could compete for mega-sized chip production. This belief was confirmed by chip makers including Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Co. and Intel Corp.
McMahon said White Pine was a finalist for both companies when they were looking for building sites. TSMC executives visited Syracuse, but chose to build in Phoenix, Ariz., in May 2020, when the White Pine site was still very small. Intel Corp. In January 2022, it decided to build near Columbus, Ohio, but gave White Pine a serious look, McMahon said.
Finally, Micron said yes.
“New York State is getting this project just because of the White Pine site,” McMahon said. “There is no other site in New York State that could do this project.”
By early 2019, when White Pine was a little more than 300 acres, McMahon’s vision for the place was almost cut. A landowner was preparing to sell 106 acres near the center of the site for use as a solar farm, which would have killed McMahon’s efforts to assemble a large, adjacent site.
County officials called the landowner and quickly negotiated an additional payment to buy the land, said Robert Petrovich, the county’s economic development director. county He paid about 900,000 dollarsI said.
“He literally wanted to sign a contract to sell it to a solar company,” Petrovich said. “We went in at the last minute and paid a premium for the property. But at the same time, it was so critical that it had to happen.
Critics wondered why the county would spend money on a site that did not have a tenant under contract.
“Onondaga County needs to stop turning public money into a pipe dream to attract a major manufacturer to the city of Clay,” he said. editorial in this publication.
A call from Sumer
McMahon said discussions with Micron began in early 2021 with a presentation from Schumer’s office. At the time, Schumer was talking to Micron CEO Sanjay Mehrotra about Schumer’s pending Chips Act bill, while also pushing him to build in New York.
McMahon said Schumer and Micro’s relentless push for legislation was critical. The legislation provides large grants and investment tax credits for semiconductor manufacturers manufacturing in the United States
“I really haven’t seen anyone in my career more steadfast in this process than Senator Schumer,” McMahon said.
In the early days, Micron evaluated several potential sites in New York but decided White Pine was the only place that would work, McMahon said. McMahon said the company was also looking at sites in Texas, Virginia, North Carolina, Michigan and Wisconsin.
A few months later, Micron hired a professional site sampling firm to compare competing sites. New York and the county have been repeatedly pressured to provide more financial aid as White Pine is compared to other states.
“They beat you up to motivate you,” McMahon said of the meetings. “You think incentives don’t matter? Passions are everything. At the end of the day, you can’t be the most expensive state they’re looking at.”
Empire State Development Executive Deputy Commissioner Kevin Younis was a regular in meetings and calls with the Micron team. He said that there were difficult discussions about money. At the same time, Younis, of Syracuse, said Micron executives clicked with the Central New York team on topics such as employment diversity and environmental sustainability.
“There was a moment where we went, wow, this company cares about the things we care about,” he said.
Hochul said he began contracting with Micron within weeks of replacing Govt. Andrew Cuomo in August 2021. He said he invited top executives from Micron to his Albany office in September in one of his first official meetings as governor.
When Hochul asked Mehrotra to tell him what it would take to make a deal, he noted that New York’s labor costs, particularly for construction workers, are higher than other places Micron is considering investing.
Hochul said he responded quickly to craft a draft labor agreement with unions that leveled the playing field with other states. The deal will last for the next 20 years as Micron builds its mega-chip fab complex.
The funding negotiations dragged on for months as passage of Schumer’s Chips Act appeared stalled in Congress. At the same time, Hochul pushed Green Chips legislation in Albany that would have given Micron the opportunity to earn $5.5 billion in refundable tax credits over 20 years.
Hochul finally signed it into law on August 11. President Biden signed the chips into law on August 1st. 9.
Without both of those things, the Micron deal wouldn’t have happened, McMahon said. The Republican county executive said he works well with the Democratic governor and Senate majority leader.
“This was the largest bilateral site engagement team we’ve ever put together,” he said.
“We are already believers”
Months before the legislation passed, Younis said he believed Micron executives wanted to land in Syracuse if the numbers worked. During January 2022, Mehrotra and a Micron team of about 10 people came to Syracuse for a series of meetings.
They met with several Syracuse-area technology companies, including JMA Wireless, Lockheed Martin and Saab Sensis, to talk about their successes and challenges in attracting skilled workers.
Hochul flew to Syracuse to meet the Micron folks at Lemon Grass, a Thai restaurant in Armory Square. The idea, Hochul said, was to make a quick, informal pitch for the company to set up in White Pine.
“I was going to meet them for cocktails and it ended up being a three-hour lunch,” Hochul said syracuse.com | Post-standard.
“I was able to talk to them not only about the Upstate and the incredible assets we have, but also as someone who lived there for four years at Syracuse University,” Hochul said.
During the luncheon, Hochul said, he talked about the legacy of a strong work ethic in New York State that dates back to the region’s industrial boom two generations ago.
Hochul told Mehrotra how his grandfather had worked his entire career at Bethlehem Steel and how generations of the same family had worked at plants like General Electric and Carrier Corp. in Syracuse.
It was a good time to be in downtown Syracuse, Eunice recalled. There was a performance at the Landmark Theatre. The Salt City market was bustling.
The people of Micron liked what they saw.
“At one point, one of them said something like this to me: ‘When we came here, we were skeptical.’ We are believers now,” he said.
Staff reporter Mark Weiner contributed to this story.