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Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger vents about Ohio chip plant delay: 'It's such a pivotal moment. Please don't dither in Congress.'

Key Points
  • Intel recently said it may delay its $20 billion plan to build two semiconductor factories in Ohio as Congress stalls on passing the CHIPS Act which includes key manufacturing subsidies.
  • Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger said at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Tuesday that this is a pivotal moment to act for the U.S. economy, national security and geopolitics: "Please don't dither in Congress over petty partisanship."
  • He did not mince his words in discussing Intel's recent decision to publicly warn it may delay the Ohio deal: "This sucks. ... I am not a delay guy."

In this article

Patrick Gelsinger, chief executive officer of Intel Corp., speaks about Intel's plans to spend $20 billion on a chipmaking hub on the outskirts of Columbus, Ohio, which the company expects to grow to be the world's biggest semiconductor-manufacturing site.
David Paul Morris | Bloomberg | Getty Images

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger has staked a lot on his bet that the U.S. can again be a leader in chip manufacturing, but right now, he isn't feeling so great about Intel's $20 billion plan to lead a semiconductor renaissance in Ohio.

Intel recently warned publicly that it could delay the Ohio plan and cited the failure in Congress to pass the CHIPS Act, which includes important chip industry subsidies of up to $52 billion ($40 billion for manufacturing and $12 billion for R&D), a version of which was already passed by the Senate over a year ago.

"I hate the idea of announcing a delay," Gelsinger told CNBC's Sara Eisen during an appearance with Ohio Senator Rob Portman at the Aspen Ideas Festival. "The idea of delaying ... this sucks... I am not a delay guy," Gelsinger said.

"Everyone saw our announcement of our delay and it is a huge signal to the industry, to get the shovels in the ground and the U.S. serious about building this industry back on U.S. soil," he said. "It's game time," he added. "Get it done before August."

Today, 12% of high-end semiconductor manufacturing is done in the U.S.

Passage of the CHIPS Act and Intel's lead decision would result in a lot more activity from global chip companies, according to the Intel CEO. "I've talked to most of the major CEOs around the world," he said, and his peers indicate they will consider coming to the U.S. as well if the economics are attractive. "The Asians all believe they need to put more manufacturing in the U.S. ... At this point, we view it as a domino effect," he said.

Some critics argue there is no need for a company with $75 billion in annual revenue to receive subsidies from the government to build a new plant, but Gelsinger noted that the manufacturing subsidies for each $10 billion plant in the Ohio complex would be capped at $3 billion. And he said these subsidies are based on the reality of government incentives around the world for chip plants, which led the U.S. to lose its lead.

If Intel builds a new plant in Europe, India, South Korea or China, the plants can be subsidized at a range of 30% to 50% (to even 70% in China).

"That's real dollars and it is not economically viable when everyone else in the world is seeing that reduction," Gelsinger said. "We are not competing with TMSC or Samsung. We are competing with Taiwan and Japan and Korea."

The CHIPS Act cap of $3 billion per fab would make the Intel plants "approximately competitive with other regions of the world," he said. "We're not looking for handouts," he added.

A third of the world's semi supply now comes from or passes through China at some point in the manufacturing process, which is the largest and fastest-growing chip market. "It's such a pivotal moment if we don't act now," Gelsinger said. "Please don't dither in Congress over petty partisanship."

In a sign of his frustration with Congress, the Intel CEO noted that in Europe, which has a complex 27-member bloc of nations with much more political variation, governments have moved faster to approve funding provisions for semiconductor manufacturing, and that's after the U.S. had a year-long head start on Capitol Hill with the CHIPS Act. "The rest of the world is moving rapidly despite the inability of Congress to get this finished," he said.

Intel is making significant financial decisions, too, with ramifications for investor relations. "I said to Wall Street we will go free cash flow negative for the first time in three decades and I can't be more aggressive in profile," Gelsinger said. When he first announced the plan, Intel shares dove.

While Intel may not reorient to Asia even if Congress fails to act, he said the likely path is to focus more chip manufacturing plans on Europe. "And that's a shame," he said. "We want to go first and bigger in Ohio."

Intel already has announced a new site in Germany, which it estimated could cost as much as $100 billion and committed an initial investment of $20 billion.

While Congress has stalled on the act, Congress never voted to get rid of the semiconductor industry, he said, but lost it to Asia because there were government actions in those countries to support new fabs. "It's an industrial policy question and these nations take that policy to be so critical. What aspect of your life is not becoming more digital? Name it," Gelsinger said.

He estimated that the U.S. economy is losing $1 billion per day in GDP by ceding the semiconductor industry to other nations (now up to 80% of which is based in Asia) and said getting to a 50%-50% balance between the West (including Europe) and the East is core to not only economic functioning but geopolitics for the next 50 years. "Where oil reserves have been for the last five decades ... fabs are more important over the next five decades. This is the future of geopolitics," he said.

"We are relying increasingly on other countries for things we absolutely need for our own economy," Portman added.