Utah County leaders are calling Micron Technology Inc.'s plan to fire up a semiconductor test facility at its Lehi plant a harbinger of good things.
Micron announced Wednesday it will employ 200 to 300 people at the Lehi plant next summer to test memory chips made at its Boise facility. Jobs to be filled include test production operators, technicians and engineers.Micron spokeswoman Julie Nash said the test facility is one of three operations originally planned for the $2.5 billion structure.
"We will not put the rest of the facility under a more aggressive schedule until we see more sustained strength in the market," she said.
The plant originally was designed to also house fabrication and assembly of semiconductor memory chips.
Still, Lehi Mayor Bill Gibbs, who got the good news from Micron officials early Wednesday morning, is pleased.
"I'm very hopeful," Gibbs said. "I think they'll move a little faster than people think they will."
Gibbs said he didn't doubt Micron would one day begin using the Lehi site, even when the company virtually stopped construction in February 1996.
Micron first announced plans to add an operation in Lehi in 1995. It said the plant would take three to five years to fully complete, and would eventually employ 3,000 to 4,000 people.
But it mothballed the project after the market for its dynamic random access memory chips, used in everything from computers to hair dryers, took a dive.
Skeptics have speculated ever since that Micron would never use the plant but would instead end up selling the building to someone else.
But, like Gibbs, many others had faith the company would not simply abandon its Lehi operation.
"Those of us that had been close to the deal never doubted that they would," said Richard Bradford, director of the Utah County Business Development Division. "We fully expected them to do what they did in the '80s, which was hunker down and survive."
Lehi's good fortune is actually due to increased production efficiencies at Micron's Boise plant. Nash said the company increased its wafer production, silicon disks etched with memory chips, 50 percent in the second quarter and 48 percent in the first quarter.
"The increased output of the Boise manufacturing facility requires additional test capacity," she said.
Nash said the memory chips will likely be flown to Utah for testing and then shipped from here to customers.
Nash said that although Micron saw a modest improvement in the price of its chips during the third fiscal quarter, the market has not improved enough to warrant completing the entire Lehi plant.
"The good news is, this helps us to bring our operations online there on a limited basis and maybe helps people understand that, yes, we always intended to use that facility," she said.
Micron Chairman and CEO Steve Apple-ton said, in a prepared statement, the slower startup will give Utah County time to prepare for when the plant begins full production.
"Starting our semiconductor-test operation will help prepare the Lehi facility for wafer fabrication when the market demands it," he said. "It will also reduce the immediate impact on the local area by providing more gradual site development."
Micron's board of directors decided during their monthly meeting Monday to begin using the Utah facility, she said. Micron also plans to complete storm drain projects, grading and landscaping at the Lehi plant this summer.