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Fate of Syracuse chip fab hinges on defense contract

A high-tech chip fab could come to Syracuse - if California-based APIC Corp. can land a key defense contract.
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A high-tech chip fab could come to Syracuse - if California-based APIC Corp. can land a key defense contract.

Sen. Charles Schumer (D-NY) is using his political weight to land a next-generation chip plant in central New York.

But the creation of the Syracuse-area nanotech facility largely depends on landing a contract from the Department of Defense, which is facing a budget cut.

On Wednesday, Schumer sent a letter to Defense Secretary Leon Panetta urging him to strike a deal with APIC Corp. of California. Such a deal could pave the way for the new chip plant.

Schumer says the plant would create 200 new jobs and could open by year’s end.

New tech

The next-gen chip technology is known as NEW-HIP - that’s Network Enabled by Wavelength Division Multiplexed Highly Integrated Photonics, for those of you scoring at home.

The chips use photons to increase computing speeds. They also cut down on energy use by about 90 percent.

APIC has been working with the Navy since 2002 to develop the chip, according to the Post-Standard. But the deal to bring the plant - and its jobs - to central New York hinges on the Navy picking up the contract.

Early stages

The chips are currently being developed in Hawaii, but the company says it’s eyeing the Electronics Park in Salina, N.Y. for full-scale production. The facility was home to a General Electric plant that shut down in 1996. The property is now owned by the region’s economic development agency, CenterState CEO.

CenterState was hesitant to talk specifics about APIC’s potential move to Syracuse.

“We’re still in a preliminary stage with this issue,” says CenterState CEO spokesman Kevin Schwab. “Given the history in this region, [we] like to make sure a project is pretty far along” before disclosing details.

Expanding nanotech’s footprint

Schumer says he wants the nanotech cluster in the Capital Region to spread west. 

“Securing a new high-tech chip manufacturing operation could be a game changer for the entire state,”says Schumer. “[It] would help us cement New York’s role as the place to be when it comes to chip fab.”

Schumer praised the Capital Region’s success at enticing nanotech companies to set up shop, highlighting the newly operational GlobalFoundries plant in Malta, N.Y.

In his letter to Defense Secretary Panetta, Schumer writes that New York is poised for additional growth in nanotechnology and semiconductor manufacturing.

What I am suggesting is for us to bring the world’s next generation of semiconductor technology to the United States, in New York State. Let me explain. For the past decade, New York State, public institutions, and high technology companies have worked tirelessly to create a foundation for leadership and growth in the semiconductor industry. This vision gave birth to SUNY Albany’s College for Nanoscale Science and Engineering (CNSE) and a major public-private cluster of research, development and manufacturing. The World-leading College of Nanoscale Science and Engineering campus in Albany started with a key investment by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, and its success can be expanded and replicated across Upstate New York.

Mini cluster

Salina’s Electronics Park is already home to a Lockheed Martin facility as well as wafer maker Group4 Labs. But the APIC operations would be much larger.

“This is the reason we sought so strongly to really create Electronics Park,” says CenterState’s Schwab. “We see great opportunities there.”

Schumer says he’ll be lining up meetings between the Defense Department and APIC in the coming weeks.

WRVO/Central New York reporter for the Innovation Trail
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