JOHNSTOWN, Ohio (AP) — Ohio’s biggest economic development project comes with a big employment challenge: how to find 7,000 construction workers in an already booming building environment when there’s also a national shortage of people working in the industry.
At hand is the $20 billion semiconductor manufacturing venture near the state capitol announced by Intel earlier this year. When the two factories, known as fabs, open in 2025, the facility will employ 3,000 people with an average salary of about $135,000.
Before that happens, the 1,000 acres must be leveled and the semiconductor factories built.
“This project resonated nationally,” said Michael Engbert, an official with the Laborers International of North America based in Ohio.
“We don’t field calls every day from members hundreds or thousands of miles away asking about transportation 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 earmarked $150 million in educational funding aimed at developing the semiconductor industry regionally and nationally.
Construction is expected to accelerate after Congress approved a package last month that boosts the semiconductor industry and scientific research in an effort to create more high-tech jobs in the United States and help it better compete with international rivals. It includes more than $52 billion in grants and other incentives for the semiconductor industry, as well as a 25 percent tax credit for companies investing in U.S. chip factories.
For the central Ohio project, all 7,000 workers are not needed immediately. They’re also just a fraction of what will be needed as Intel’s project transforms hundreds of largely agricultural 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 is building a 500-acre (200-hectare) business park next door to house Intel suppliers. The site’s 5 million square feet (464,515 square meters) is equivalent to nearly nine football fields. Other projects are expected for additional suppliers.
California-based Intel will build on lessons learned from building previous semiconductor sites nationally and globally to secure enough manufacturing workers, the company said in a statement.
“One of Intel’s primary reasons for choosing Ohio is access to the region’s strong workforce,” the company said. “It won’t be without its challenges, but we’re confident there’s enough demand for these jobs to be filled.”
Labor leaders and state officials acknowledge there is currently no pool of 7,000 additional workers in central Ohio, where other current projects include a 28-story Hilton near downtown Columbus, a $2 billion addition to the medical center of Ohio State University and a $365 million Amgen biomanufacturing plant not far from the Intel plant.
And that’s not counting at least three new Google and Amazon data centers, plans for a new $200 million municipal court south of downtown Columbus and solar array projects that could claim nearly 6,000 jobs alone.
Federal figures show about 45,000 residential and commercial construction workers in central Ohio. This number increased by 1,800 from May 2021 to May 2022, meaning a future shortfall given current and future requirements.
“I don’t know of any commercial construction company that isn’t hiring,” said Mary Tebeau, executive director of the Builders Exchange of Central Ohio, a construction industry trade association.
Offsetting the imbalance are training programs, a push to encourage more high school students to enter trading and net finance. Including overtime, pay for skilled tradespeople can reach $125,000 a year, said Dorsey Hager, executive secretary-treasurer of the Columbus Building Trades Council.
Or, as Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, the state’s economic development chief, puts it, Intel’s project is so big and lucrative that it will create opportunities for people who didn’t see construction jobs in their futures.
“When you’re willing to pay more people to do something, you’re going to find the talent,” he said.
In addition to new and out-of-state workers, some will likely retire from the homebuilding industry, reducing an already shortage of homebuilders, said Ed Brady, CEO of the Washington, D.C.-based Institute of Home Builders.
That creates a risk of a housing shortage that could slow the very type of economic growth that Intel is fueling, said Ed Dietz of the National Association of Home Builders.
“How do you attract that business investment if you can’t also provide additional housing for workforce development?” he said.
Central Ohio is expected to reach 3 million residents by 2050, which would require 11,000 to 14,000 housing units annually. That was before Intel was announced, said Jennifer Noll, the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission’s associate director of community development. Meanwhile, the closest to achieving this goal was 2020 with 11,000 units.
“We know we have some work to do as a district,” Noll said.
Shortages or not, work is underway on and near the Intel site, where parades of trucks raced down country roads on a recent August morning as the sound of multiple construction vehicles rang out in the distance.
It was just another day for pipelayer Taylor Purdy, who regularly makes the 30-minute drive from Bangs, Ohio, to his construction job helping widen a road that runs next to the Intel plant.
Purdy, 28, spends his days in the trenches helping to lay storm and sanitary sewers and water lines. Overtime is plentiful as deadlines loom. Intel’s construction work is in its early stages as earthmovers reshape the 1,000 acres (400 hectares) of former farm and residential land being converted into an industrial site.
Purdy said he likes the job security of being involved in such a large project. He’s also noticed that, unlike other jobs he’s worked on, he doesn’t have to explain to people what he’s doing.
“Everybody knows what I’m talking about,” he said.