SHERMAN, TX - As Texas Instruments and GlobiTech each prepare for multi-billion dollar expansions of operations, the deals may be the sign of a change in direction for the city of Sherman. With the two tech companies, and others in the region, slated to create thousands of jobs, local leaders and economic developers have begun to refer to the city as hub for technology in North Texas.
But, what does it take to create that kind of economic ecosystem?
While local leaders, including city, educational and business officials recently said Sherman is on the cusp of becoming a technology center for the region, there are still unmet needs that need to be fulfilled before Sherman can truly embrace that role.
“I’ve used that term and an ecosystem corridor, but the thing you need to get into is what defines a tech hub of a full ecosystem,” Sherman Economic Development Corp. President Kent Sharp said. “Well, that’s a subject of interpretation.”
Tech boom predates recent announcements
Great attention has been on Texas Instruments and GlobiTech following the announcements of a $30 billion and $5 billion investments, respectively, in new production facilities in Sherman
But, city officials said the origin of the current boom likely started about five years ago when Finisar announced it would begin production of vertical cavity surface emitting laser technology in the former MEMC building along U.S. Highway 75. At the time of the announcement, Apple pledged to invest more than $300 million in Finisar and its development of its facial recognition technology, which is used in Apple iPhone products.
Since then, Finisar and parent company II-VI, have commenced production at the Sherman facility. Most recently, the company announced in late 2021 that it would invest an additional $50 million in further building out its Sherman facilities.
While Finisar was one of the first businesses in the recent tech boom to expand and invest within the Sherman market, the largest investment to date will come from Texas Instruments, who announced in late 2021 that it would invest nearly $30 billion in new facilities aimed at modernizing its chip production in Sherman to new 300 millimeter silicon wafers. The new facilities would be built in four phases with the first slated to begin production some time in 2025.
This was followed up in 2022 with news that GlobiTech and parent company Global Wafers would invest $5 billion in a new silicon wafer production site. The new facility would produce 300 millimeter silicon wafers, which are used in the production of microchips and electronic components. Like TI, GlobiTech plans to build the new facility over the course of four phases which would create a total of 1,500 new jobs.
Creating a tech ecosystem in Texoma
While Sharp noted that he has used the term tech hub to describe the region since the announcements, that term can be interpreted in different ways. To some, becoming a technology hub involves creating an ecosystem of related businesses and industries that augment and supplement each other. This includes companies and developments on multiple levels of the production chain from raw materials to finished goods. Currently, Texoma hosts two of those stages in the form of TI and GlobiTech, Sharp said.
“If the wafer is made here, the wafer ships to a chip company like TI that prints the chip on the wafer then that is sold … Those are the first two
(steps) in the process,” Sharp said.
While GlobiTech may produce the silicon wafers that are used in chip manufacturing, it is other companies, like TI that ultimately produce the chip. These chips are then shipped down the production chain to other producers who make circuit board and other components that are later used by a myriad of products ranging from cars and trucks to consumer electronics, among other uses.
While it may be difficult to recruit a company further down the production line, Sharp said economic developers are targeting producers who are earlier in the production line that would benefit and service both GlobiTech and Texas Instruments through chemicals and other raw materials.
“That is low hanging fruit because they will need to be here,” They can’t even be in Dallas and shipped up here. They need to be in Grayson County, but they really need to be as close to the plants as they can.”
This view of a tech hub as a system of interconnected industries is shared by City Manager Robbie Hefton who compared Sherman’s potential to what happened in the Portland area following the construction of Intel facilities.
“If you look at a Google map there was nothing, then there was Intel, and then it was all these other things around,” Hefton said. “That’s kind of what I envision could happen here with these things starting to stack kind of vertically.”
“So, to me, a tech hub isn’t just having a high-tech company here, it’s having a wide variety of things that are supporting businesses,” he continued.
Beyond the business needs of a community, Hefton said there are tertiary needs of any successful business that is able to recruit and draw employees to the community. This includes enough homes for the new employees and other community assets and amenities.
“Being a tech hub kind of brings an expectation that your community isn’t just providing those basic building blocks, but has a livable community,” Hefton said. “We have a downtown that is desirable and is a magnet and destination for workers that work in those industries.”
Creating the workforce will be the challenge
While city leaders boast about Sherman’s amenities, Sharp noted that the community still has some barriers for tech industries that could seek to relocate to Sherman. Among these challenges is the workforce. In recent years, the Sherman-Denison region has faced historic lows in unemployment rates with some industrial employers experiencing difficulties in recruiting from an already limited pool. These difficulties have only grown following the COVID-19 pandemic and struggles by multiple industries to recruit.
In addition to the limited pool, Sharp said the region may need additional educational resources to prepare prospective workers for these positions. Part of this could be met through partnerships and relationships that have already been made. Sharp said Sherman is fortunate to be located within driving distance of the University of Texas at Dallas, who has maintained a relationship with TI through programs and training initiatives.
“I know there is an academic component and that’s not only for providing training in production jobs but the research and engineering, the scientific stuff,” Sharp said. “Often college provides some of that, but obviously UT Dallas provides much more of that … That was the missing component of the telecom corridor.”
Locally, Grayson College has had a major role in creating a pathway for students to pursue education and training for jobs in local industry, manufacturing and health care through local school AMP programs and other initiatives. However, Sharp said the kinds of jobs created by TI and Globitech may be outside the traditional scope of the AMP program.
Despite this, Grayson College President Jeremy McMillen said the college already has a history in preparing workers for local tech jobs over the years. The college has hosted short-term training programs aimed at onboarding and upskilling workers in preparation of new positions. In 2018, the college recieve $541,0000 in state grants to train Finisar employees in clean room operations and other onboarding training. Globitech has also participated in training programs over the years.
“GlobiTech has been a partner of ours for those types of trainings over maybe a couple decades and both of those trainings we did there were highly customized to what they needed at the time,” McMillen said.
The first step in providing training will be to determine what skill sets the employees need going into these positions, McMillen said. The college is currently working with these companies to determine what programs they need. McMillen has proposed including $250,000 for training expenses in the upcoming budget in the event that the college needs to provide courses for the employers over the next year.
“Some are going need two-year some will need short-term training,” McMillen said. “We’re going to have to bridge the gap on both of those just because of the volume that is needed.”
While training may help provide a local pool of workers, Sharp said the first wave of employees for these expansions may come from outside Sherman.
“I have a feeling that the majority of them are going to be moving to Sherman for the first wave at the very least,” Sharp said. “I mean, I look at our current AMP program and I don’t know if the numbers are there to meet the demand that GlobiTech, II-IV and TI are going to have.”
Michael Hutchins Full Story | Herald Democrat | July 31, 2022
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