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It’s Semiconductor Season in Cincinnati

Semiconductors pave the path of our technological history and future

Semiconductors seem like such a futuristic concept, but in reality the technology was first harnessed in 1874 by physicist Ferdinand Braun, then developed and applied widely in the age of radio. The mid-century rise of the electronics era was certainly powered by semiconductors, and the information age was further made possible by advances in semiconductor technology. Semiconductors are also charting the way for today’s technological advances — such as AI, quantum computing and wireless technologies — to define the days ahead.

Semiconductors are the future of everything, and they’re happening right here. We know this, but … are we crystal clear on what a semiconductor is, exactly?

What Is a Semiconductor?

While “semiconductor” is the name we’ve assigned products, at its most elemental a semiconducting material is one that acts as either a conductor or insulator based on varying conditions (temperatures, essentially). There are a range of materials that fall between conductor and insulator status, but the three most commonly used are germanium, gallium arsenide and silicon. Among the elements, silicon is only second to carbon in sheer abundance here on earth. Silicon crystals also have strong mechanical properties, which is why it’s been such a popular material in electronics manufacturing since the 1950s.

These semiconducting materials are used to make products tailored to provide specific amounts of conductivity and are known as integrated circuits, chips or just semiconductors. And these products have enabled our technological advancement over the past century, making possible everything from TVs and cell phones to medical devices and video games.

Semiconductors are elemental materials used to make products that are sometimes also simply called semiconductors. But semiconductors are a third thing, too: They’re a major sector of the modern economy.

A Segmented Economic Sector

The semiconductor economy can be broken down into a few different components. There’s the foundry or fabrication component, which is the stage at which the semiconducting materials are actually made into chips. Intel is a major player in this space, and this is a large part of the work that will be done at the New Albany, Ohio, site the company is currently building.

Although Cincinnati does not have its own in region foundry, it does have investment in two other stages of semiconductor production: EDA and ATP.

EDA is Electronic Design Automation, which is basically chip design—an essential early step in producing a semiconductor product. Professionals in semiconductor EDA need specialized education and expertise, and work in technical roles such as software development, computer support and computer systems analysis.

ATP—Assembly, Testing and Packaging—occurs on the other side of the foundry process. At this stage, semiconductor products are assembled, tested for functionality and quality control,  and packaged in a protective metal, plastic, glass or ceramic casing for later use in a circuit board. The 2022’s CHIPS & Science Act was implemented to encourage U.S. microchip production.

Semiconductors Here at Home

Here’s how the Cincinnati MSA impacts the EDA and ATP industries within the semiconductor economy. Our region is poised for significant growth in these segments, with the semiconductor industry set to play a major role in our regional economy in the coming years. This industry strength is in large part due to a concerted effort on the part of some 19 educational institutions, anchored by the University of Cincinnati and its network of educational programs aimed at supplying trained talent, all focused on growing the semiconductor industry locally.

The high-level metrics for Semiconductor impact in our region:

  • As of 2023, the 19 educational programs produced 9,497 completions. STEM degrees in total saw a 4% growth in completions, for a total of 11,131 graduated students.
  • The local EDA and ATP sectors provided 6,173 jobs last year.
  • The Cincinnati region is home to 1,019 payrolled businesses in those sectors in 2023, 31% growth since 2019, for a total gross regional product (GRP) of $1.2B – a growth rate of 7% since 2019.
  • Sector job growth is projected at 6% by 2028.

Semiconductors are everywhere, and the microchip industry will only see growth as the information age incorporates communication connectivity into an increasing array of products. And as initiatives are implemented with the aim of growing the domestic production of semiconductors, the nation can expect an economic explosion in industry opportunities. Cincinnati is proactively poised and ready to be an epicenter for this activity.