Mayor’s message to TSMC: ‘Camas is ready’

Trip to Taiwan during typhoon described as a success

When Typhoon Megi hit the east coast of Taiwan, it brought 40 inches of rain and 130 mph hour winds. It also caused hundreds of flights to be canceled, the island’s train system to be shut down and millions of households to lose power. However, the weather system’s mayhem couldn’t put a damper on the efforts of a determined Clark County delegation.

A group that included Camas Mayor Scott Higgins, and the Columbia River Economic Development Council’s President Mike Bomar and Director of Business Recruitment Elizabeth Scott, arrived in Taiwan on Saturday, Sept. 24, just three days before Typhoon Megi would end up making landfall.

“I didn’t think anything of it at the time,” Higgins said. “I was not concerned in the least.”

According to Bomar, the trip was in coordination with CREDC’s participation in Select USA’s Taiwan Road Show. Select USA is a program housed in the International Trade Administration at the Department of Commerce, which works to facilitate business investment in the US.

The Road Show is a chance for U.S. economic development associations to make pitches to Taiwanese information technology, semiconductor and renewable energy industries. Bomar said the CREDC has participated in other Select USA events including an annual Investment Summit in Washington DC.

This marked Bomar’s and Higgins’ first trip to Taiwan.

“It was not what I thought it was going to be, that’s for sure,” the mayor said.

Higgins was focused on a meeting in Hsinchu scheduled for Sept. 27 with a handful of leaders from TSMC, the parent company of WaferTech. The contract semiconductor manufacturer operates a facility on 260 acres in Camas that employs 1,000 people. It would be the first time a Camas mayor had visited Taiwan since the local site was built two decades ago.

Unfortunately, that was the same day Megi was scheduled to blow right over the top of the island.

The group got word that TSMC would be shutting down.

“I started panicking a little bit, especially because we were trapped in our hotel for a day and a half. All we had was time,” Higgins said. “I thought, I know why I’m here, but there is no way I can accomplish it. I started mapping out who I could pay to drive me through this storm, so that I could at least take some pictures of the place to document that I was here. I was willing to do it.”

Luckily, no such heroic efforts were necessary. Although the TSMC corporate office was still closed due to weather conditions, Taiwan’s railway resumed operations on Wednesday afternoon.

“They scrambled,” Higgins said of the coordinated efforts of TSMC officials’ and Scott to make a meeting happen.

Higgins, Bomar and Scott met with executives including JK Wang, the vice president of operations who has been with TSMC since the company was founded in 1987.

So, what made this meeting so important?

The possibility of a WaferTech expansion in the United States has been discussed on and off for several years. While an article in the Wall Street Journal in 2014 reported that TSMC Chairman Morris Chang told a group of shareholders that this kind of investment isn’t in the cards in the near future, if efforts to build a new foundry ever do move forward, it could involve billions of dollars and hundreds of jobs.

Higgins described the feedback he received during the recent visit as positive.

“[Wang] did assure us that should [WaferTech] be able to expand in the U.S., they intend it to be in Camas,” he said. “There was nothing imminent — nothing was promised as far as dates — but it was a good conversation and it was affirming to see that type of commitment.”

If TSMC does decide to make a move in the U.S., Higgins thinks Camas is ready.

“There are so many factors that are at play,” he said. “I think the fact that we have a fab here puts us in a favorable light. They know we could supply water, sewer and infrastructure.”

Working against Camas, however, are federal tax code regulations.

“It’s harder and harder for big corporations like that to make that huge of an investment on U.S. soil right now,’ Higgins said. “That doesn’t mean it’s going to stay that way forever, and that doesn’t mean it’s impossible. That’s out of our control. But sometimes there are other reasons to be on US soil other than just tax structure. ”

Higgins said he is motivated to make sure Camas is prepared.

“Those would all be huge things for us, but how imminent it is I don’t know. Certainly not now,” he said. “It’s just about playing the long game, making sure Camas is poised and ready.”

Despite Typhoon Megi’s unforeseen impact on the trip, Higgins and Bomar described it as a success. Contacts were made with TSMC, and through Select USA’s Taiwan Road Show new relationships with representatives from other companies in Taiwan, the United States’ ninth-largest trading partner, were established as well.

“Thankfully, I think it did feel like we got to turn some lemons into lemonade on that one,” Higgins said. “It really started out going really bad, then it was able to be rescued.”