Flemish tech sector wants to secure billions from American CHIPS act

Accompanied by Flemish minister president Jan Jambon, 16 Flemish technology companies are touring the US this week to ensure that Flanders benefits from the billions allocated in the American chip act. "We must prevent the Americans, in a protectionist reflex, from using this money to replicate our Flemish companies," says Joy Donné of Flanders Investment and Trade (FIT).

Last summer, US president Joe Biden signed the CHIPS and Science Act into law, providing 52 billion dollars to American companies involved in chip development and production. The aim is to prevent the economy from facing another chip shortage like the one that followed the Covid-19 pandemic.

As in Europe, car and electronics factories in the US halted production, causing the price of chips, many of which are produced in Asia, to soar. Since then, the US has been trying to reduce its dependence on foreign sources, which has caused concern in Flanders.

R&D leader

Although Flanders doesn't produce chips, it is a world leader in research and development, with Leuven's imec as a prime success story. The independent research centre has been a world leader in critical innovations in nano and digital technology for more than 35 years.

Donné suggests that if Americans want to reduce their dependence, they might be tempted to replicate companies like imec. "We are here to convince [the government] to invest wisely. They should invest in things that don't exist in the world."

He says major American companies such as Microsoft, Google and Nvidia are happy to work with imec: "At the moment, they don't want to change that. The challenge will be to get politicians on board and away from a nationalistic stance." The delegation will visit those companies this week.

"The challenges in this industry are so big that no one can tackle them alone. Right now, the whole ecosystem benefits from the CHIPS Act"

Imec's Luc Van den hove sees threats but also opportunities. "Almost all new initiatives being launched in the US at the moment are asking for our involvement," he said. He believes the US government understands that bringing in strengths from other regions benefits the local market. "The challenges in this industry are so big that no one can tackle them alone. Right now, the whole ecosystem benefits from the CHIPS Act."

Jambon is aware that Americans are not inclined to produce what they can buy from Flanders. "Just as we are not currently involved in the production of chips," he says.

Flanders invested heavily in imec last summer, to the value of 750 million euros. "This investment is yielding a huge return," says Van den hove. "With the ecosystem around imec, we provide jobs for 12,000 to 13,000 people."

Attracting a major chip manufacturer, as some advocate, would yield a much lower return. "To attract a major player, the government would have to invest at least 10 billion euros for 4,000 to 5,000 jobs," he said.

On Friday, the Flemish delegation is heading to Indianapolis, where imec is opening a new facility.


#FlandersNewsService | © BELGA PHOTO & VIDEO DIRK WAEM

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