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New York rolls dice on semiconductors

State heavily subsidizes chipmaker to build manufacturing plant in area hard-hit by unemployment.

chip plant

When people think of Saratoga Springs, they normally think of the ponies.

But now this area in upstate New York is going from horses to high-tech. Here in the small town of Malta, just south of Saratoga Springs, a new $4.2 billion semiconductor manufacturing plant has just broken ground.

"I think it's going to have a huge benefit in terms of returning to the region the status that was here long ago in manufacturing," said Doug Grose, the CEO of Global Foundries, which is a collaboration between the chipmaker Advanced Micro Devices and an Abu Dhabi investment group.

They've received more than $1 billion in tax breaks from the state of New York to build this plant, making it the most heavily subsidized public and private venture in the state's history, reports CBS News correspondent John Bentley.

With unemployment in upstate New York at the 26-year high of nearly 9 percent, building the plant was a boon for Ray Kazyaka.

A lifelong resident of the area, Kazyaka had been out of a job for three months before he came to work on the project as superintendent for construction.

"A lot of people have to jump from job to job because either they're getting laid off or it's not really what they wanted and it's not what they were trained for. With the Global Foundries project, hopefully that all will change," he said.

The company estimates it will create more than 6,000 new jobs, both at the plant and in the surrounding area, and generate almost $300 million in employee earnings.

But despite the rosy economic predictions, sinking billions into this plant is still risky. The chip market has been hit hard, down more than 20 percent from a year ago. So even though they're building it, the business may not come.

"The biggest risk is the economy, and if you think demand's going to be down for a while, this plant could have troubles," Larry Dignan, editor in chief of ZDNet.

"Clearly it's been hurt in the recession along with a lot of other businesses, but a lot of good companies and a lot of folks think this is the time to invest."

Globalfoundries is betting $4.2 billion that this is the right move.

"Times are rough, but we know this industry will come back," said Grose. "We started to see it come back, so second half '09 will be even stronger than the first half, and then, we think 2010 and 2011 (the) foundry industry will continue to grow."

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