Naked City

Letting the Chip Plants Fall

While the Greater Austin Chamber and other business leaders mourn the one that got away, local environmentalists are relieved that Advanced Micro Devices chose not to build its $3 billion chipmaking plant here. Instead, AMD picked Singapore over Central Texas as the site for its next-generation facility, in partnership with Taiwan-based United Microelectronics Corp.

"It was a disappointment," said Chamber spokeswoman Saralee Tiede, "but their location was based on what partner [AMD] selected. They chose a partner that was technologically compatible -- it makes utter sense."

The location makes sense to Austin enviros, too, but for different reasons. "It was clear from the beginning that as much as Austin would have loved to snag those jobs, that the price the community would have to pay -- in water and electricity, let alone Smart Growth incentives -- was just too high," said former Save Our Springs Alliance leader Robin Rather. Indeed, the thrill of Austin winning a $3 billion, technologically advanced facility quickly morphs into sticker shock after factoring in the $95 million subsidy offered by the city, and the 4 million gallons of water per day the company would have sucked up in return. While AMD holds a good record for corporate citizenship, Rather said she would prefer that the company endow Austin with less resource-draining projects.

SOS Executive Director Bill Bunch views the loss in terms of his old foe, Gary Bradley. The Austin developer had hoped to land the AMD deal on property he owns near the Travis and Hays county lines, although city and business reps were pushing a number of other alternative locations. "Without his own personal AMD site, Gary Bradley's argument for fast-tracking SH 45 South evaporates," Bunch said, referring to Bradley's efforts to build an east-west toll road connecting I-35 and MoPac. "His toll road collection predictions, and thus the finances of the proposed toll road, also evaporate."

Without an economically stimulating chip plant coming to town, the Chamber is nevertheless cheered that AMD will continue pumping money and new technology into Fab 25 -- the company's most modern facility in Austin. In the meantime, the Chamber is trying to diversify its recruitment efforts, and is currently eyeing some biotechnology and digital entertainment prospects, spokeswoman Tiede said. "Digital entertainment combines film, music, and technology, and we feel this is just a natural fit for our area." Also, she noted, international trade, particularly with Mexico, "shows enormously good prospects."

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