Gov. Tina Kotek has taken every opportunity to wax eloquent about the promise of legislation she signed on April 13, 2022 to attract semiconductor-related investment and good-paying jobs to Oregon.
“This bill is an absolutely essential tool for leading a coordinated effort with the private sector to ensure we can compete for federal funds to expand advanced manufacturing in Oregon,” Kotek said in a news release. “We are poised to lay the foundation for the next generation of innovation and production of semiconductors.”
She’s been less forthcoming about exactly how she intends to implement the legislation.
Under Oregon’s innovative statewide land use planning program, created in 1973 with passage of the Oregon Land Use Act (SB 100), each of the state’s cities and metropolitan areas has created an urban growth boundary around its perimeter – a land use planning line to control urban expansion onto farm and forest lands.
Senate Bill 4 granted Kotek a blank check to bring some plots of land into Oregon’s urban growth boundaries, changing land use restrictions at her whim, to entice investment in Oregon’s semiconductor industry. Kotek will be able to designate up to eight sites, including two more than 500 acres in size, for manufacturing facilities.
In an April 21 KGW-TV interview on Straight Talk with Laurel Porter, Porter asked, “If somebody doesn’t want to sell, will the state be able to take that land?” A skilled politician, Kotek sidestepped the question, saying it isn’t yet clear yet whether land outside the current urban growth boundary will need to be accessed.
Of equal or greater consequence, Kotek has also been less than forthcoming about whether she would use her authority under the legislation to site data centers.
Data centers house networked computers, storage systems and computing infrastructure that organizations use to assemble, process, store and disseminate large amounts of data. Enterprise data centers increasingly incorporate facilities for securing and protecting cloud computing resources and in-house, on-site resources.
Senate Bill 4 says the governor can designate land that relates “to the semiconductor industry, advanced manufacturing or the supply chain for semiconductors or advanced manufacturing.”
Seeking to clarify the governor’s intentions, I asked her office, “Does the governor interpret this to mean the bill would allow her to designate sites to be used for data centers?”
The governor’s office asked me to give them a date/time I was seeking a response by and I did so. After that, crickets.
Repeated requests for a response drew a blank.
The question deserves a clear answer from the governor.
In my view, the legislature did not intend to give the governor authority to commandeer sites for data centers, which already enjoy substantial financial subsidies and access to abundant water and energy. Any attempt to do so should be aggressively challenged.
The primary motivations behind Senate Bill 4 were to secure not only investment, but also a sizable number of high-paying jobs to bolster Oregon’s economy.
If there’s one thing data center investments do not bring, it is an abundance of high-paying jobs.
The cavernous highly automated data centers that have been proliferating in Hillsboro and elsewhere in Oregon are mostly devoid of people.
Intel’s multiple campuses in Hillsboro and Aloha serve approximately 22,000 employees, the company’s largest concentration of facilities and talent in the world, and likely an equal number of contract workers.
In contrast, while Hillsboro is considered one of the fastest growing data center markets in the country, workers at the centers are sparse.
For example, The Oregonian reported earlier this year that Twitter employs only 18 people at its Hillsboro data center while Digital Realty Trust’s data center had just three Hillsboro employees.
Not only are data centers underpopulated, the workers in them are not generally highly paid. While the average annual wage of Intel Oregon employees exceeds $132,000, the average annual wage of data center technicians in Oregon is $46,800 per year for entry level positions and $62,400 for the most experienced workers, according to Talent.com.
In other words, the last thing Oregon needs is for Gov. Kotek to bypass Oregon’s land use laws to attract more massive data centers that gobble up even more land..
And she needs to make it clear now that she will not do so.