National Press Club

Semiconductor Exec Stresses Importance of Educated Workforce

October 7, 2009 | By Mark Schoeff Jr. | mschoeff@workforce.com

GlobalFoundries, a new semiconductor company, is swimming against the economic tide. In the midst of a deep recession, it broke ground over the summer on a $4.2 billion manufacturing facility in upstate New York that will employ 1,500.

The firm chose a domestic location for its operation rather than China, Brazil or Russia because of the “ecosystem” created by the collaboration between government, educational institutions and the private sector, GlobalFoundries chairman Hector Ruiz said at an Oct. 5 Newsmaker.

Over the last 15 years, the state has been developing the region that includes Albany, Saratoga and Troy into a nanotechnology center. The effort, which draws on research being done at the University at Albany, has attracted scientists and engineers.

Other sources of skilled workers for GlobalFoundries include Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute and Hudson Valley Community College.

The nanotechnology emphasis and the talent supply was a combination that the emerging countries couldn’t match.

“Their add-up was not as strong as New York’s,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz is trying to raise awareness about the importance of a holistic approach -- from improving infrastructure to bolstering workforce quality -- in making American communities economically competitive.

He acknowledged that GlobalFoundries received enticements from New York like tax breaks. But he said that every location bidding for the facility made similar offers.

“The economic incentive package became a non-differentiator,” Ruiz said.

What GlobalFoundries demands is a continual supply of workers who understand the fundamentals of math and science, Ruiz said, and can handle increasingly complex technology manufacturing tasks. They don’t all have to be engineers, but they do need to know the difference between an “average” and a “median,” he said.

“When you’re in the factory making decisions, that is critical,” Ruiz said.

Ruiz said he wants to ensure that the U.S. can keep producing such workers. He said the country has the best colleges and universities in the world but lags behind other nations at the primary and secondary school level.

The key is to find teachers who can introduce kids to the thrill of learning, Ruiz said. Growing up in a small town in Mexico, Ruiz credits his parents with instilling in him a passion for education. His father would travel around the world through books.

“He was fascinated by reading and learning,” Ruiz said. “He would talk about places as if he had been there.”

That inspiration carried Ruiz to bachelor’s and master’s degrees in electrical engineering from the University of Texas and a doctorate from Rice University in Houston. He went on to serve as an executive at AMD and Motorola before joining GlobalFoundries.