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Survival game: Sematech turns to Albany and its millions

Posted on: 10-May-2007

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Money talks when it comes to semiconductor research, where each machine costs millions and researchers capable of high-k or EUV research are not cheap either.

So when political leaders in New York decided this week to provide $300 million in funding to Sematech over the next five years, it was just the latest stage in moving more of Sematech from Austin – its home for the past two decades – to Albany, New York.

New York has provided generous subsidies to Albany Nanotech and to Sematech North, including a 2:1 matching program for equipment purchases. Buy a new immersion scanner or metrology tool for use in Albany, and New York picks up most of the tab. Put that same machine in Austin, and the seven member companies of Sematech pay the entire bill.

While New York was luring Sematech north, the state of Texas provided $45 million a three years ago to thwart Albany’s advance, an attempt to keep Sematech in Austin. However, the following year that $45 million grant turned into a $45 million loan, and then dwindled down to the current level of support of a few materials and nanotechnology programs in Austin.

As Chris Mack, a former Sematech lithography researcher, said, “New York  is bribing Sematech to move to Albany, and Texas has stopped bribing Sematech to stay in Austin.”

Sematech is now a two-headed beast. International Sematech was the consortium’s official name for a few years. Then the word “International” was dropped. Now International Sematech is being revived as the name of the Albany-based part of Sematech. Sematech will keep its offices in Austin, where the aging 200-mm fab will continue to support the ATDF subsidiary and its contract-manufacturing support of chip research, including corporate FinFet research efforts, for example, as well as fab runs for university researchers, and startups needing to characterize their work in silicon.

ISMI and other Sematech programs will stay in Austin, along with various materials characterization efforts.

 “The key to survival is adapting,” Mack said. By cuddling up to New York and becoming an anchor tenant to Albany Nanotech – which is long on equipment and clean rooms but short of world-class semiconductor researchers – Sematech is ensuring its survival.

The money has to come from somewhere. In the last few years, Samsung has joined as a core member, but Freescale, Hynix, STMicroelectronics, Philips, and TSMC all have dropped out. With six chip manufacturers and HP as the remaining core members, Sematech’s budget was in the $160 million range. New York’s $300 million over five years helps keep Sematech alive, even as it gradually moves from sunny Austin to snowy Albany.

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