Best of the West: Manufacturing flourishes in the region; Oregon harnessing the power of waves; Alaska creates a ‘Long Trail’

The Western Governors' Association keeps you updated on the latest news in the West. Here are the top stories for the week starting May 31, 2021. (Photos courtesy of Clayton Cardinalli and Kevin Powell)  

With available land, an increasingly robust higher education system, and a high quality of life for employees, the Southwest is quickly becoming known as America’s next manufacturing hub. The Wall Street Journal reports that manufacturing output in states such as ArizonaNew Mexico, and Oklahoma increased more than any other region in the U.S from 2017 to 2020. Along with Nevada, it represented 30% of the country’s job growth in that sector. The following are just a few examples of recent investments in the western region.  

Arizona: The Taiwanese semiconductor giant, TSMC, announced plans in May for a $12 billion computer chip factory in Phoenix that began construction on June 1 – one of six factories the world’s largest semiconductor manufacturer may build in the Grand Canyon State. Less than two months earlier, Intel announced a $20 billion investment to expand its Arizona-based manufacturing capacity, which includes two new semiconductor facilities that will employ 3,000 high-tech workers. More recently, VIAVI Solutions Inc. – a network test, measurement and assurance technology company – purchased 10.8 acres of land in Chandler for a new manufacturing plant and also plans to transition its headquarters to the new facility. 

Oklahoma: After opening an 800,000-square-foot Factory Distribution Center in Tulsa in 2020, Whirlpool announced in May that it will invest $15 million into its factory in that city to increase production capabilities. The Israeli aerospace company TAT Technologies is also expanding its manufacturing capacity in Tulsa, where it will build specialized aircraft engine parts and create more than 300 new skilled manufacturing jobs. 

New Mexico: Intel’s $3.5 billion investment to develop an advanced semiconductor manufacturing facility dominated headlines in May, but several other manufacturing companies have made big investments in the state. Saputo Dairy USA, one of the country's largest cheese and dairy foods manufacturers, recently announced it will invest up to $30 million to expand its cheese manufacturing plant in Las Cruces, creating 150 new jobs. Tattooed Chef, a leader in plant-based foods, announced that it will acquire Foods for New Mexico for $35 million to enable them to diversify product lines and increase manufacturing capabilities. 

Nevada: In response to this boom, the city of Henderson and the College of Southern Nevada are working together on a new education center to train people in manufacturing. The planned center will help supply workers for machine tool builder Haas Automation, which recently purchased land in Henderson to build a new manufacturing plant.  

Kansas: Airxcel, a manufacturer of HVAC products for recreational vehicles based in Wichita, announced a $4 million expansion of its manufacturing plant, which will create 365 jobs in the area. “I believe this expansion creates a blueprint for companies and the city to follow,” Governor Laura Kelly said. 

WAVE POWER: Oregon State University will soon build the first commercial-scale, utility grid-connected wave energy test site in the U.S. The $80 million facility, located just off the coast near Newport, Oregon will enable researchers to test technologies for harnessing the power of ocean waves and transmitting that energy to the local electrical grid, as well as determine its impact on the environment. While the amount of power generated at the testing site will be nominal, the Oregon Department of Energy reported the technology has the potential to power 28 million homes annually.

CONNECTING THE DOTS: The Alaska Legislature earmarked $13.2 million to fund the first segments of an ‘Alaska Long Trail,’ a proposed 500-mile hiking trail from Seward to Fairbanks. The entire project will require more money and many more years to complete, but the project has been endorsed by economic development and tourism organizations as a potential mecca for hikers and adventurers, similar to the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and Continental Divide Trails. 

OCEAN ECOLOGY: The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced that the University of Hawai’i will host NOAA’s Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research (CIMAR), which includes $210 million in funding over the next five years. CIMAR will be researching environmental change in the Indo-Pacific region, and how coastal and marine resources in the Hawaiian Islands and U.S.-affiliated Pacific islands can be conserved for the region’s economic, social and environmental needs. Some of the areas they will study include ecological forecasting, oceanographic monitoring and forecasting, and tsunamis and other long-period ocean waves.

NUCLEAR POWER: The state of Wyoming – in partnership with TerraPower, PacifiCorp and the U.S. Department of Energy – will house the country’s first Natrium Reactor. The smaller modular reactor only generates 345 megawatts compared to the thousands of megawatts at traditional nuclear plants, but also produces about two-thirds less waste per unit of energy generated and makes use of both the connection to the electrical grid and the cooling systems at retired coal plants, reports The Casper Star-Tribune. Its financial and environmental efficiency is driving proponents to say that the technology could provide sustainable grid reliability alongside wind and solar energy.

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