ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Longtime Intel Corp. engineer Katie Prouty may be just what New Mexico needs to build newfound stability for the company’s plant in Rio Rancho.
As the plant’s new site manager, Prouty is squarely embracing Intel’s rapidly evolving role in today’s hyperconnected world, leading the local facility in new directions that could help retain its role as a critical cog in the company’s global operations well into the future.
“Our goal in New Mexico is to continue being an integral part of the overall Intel manufacturing network, using our local expertise to keep developing new products,” Prouty said. “We want to take advantage of new opportunities for products that we can make here in New Mexico to support all of Intel’s strategies and markets, whether it’s computer processing units for personal computers, chips for data centers and networks, or new microprocessing applications.”
Prouty, who became site manager last summer, spoke with the Journal earlier this month about a new, cutting edge technology developed by Intel’s Rio Rancho engineers to immensely speed data transfer by fusing optics technology, or lasers, with traditional silicon-based electronics circuits. That breakthrough innovation is key to Intel’s efforts to dominate data management in the modern world of cloud computing, super-fast networks, and Internet-connected devices, earning the Rio Rancho site a solid niche in emerging technologies that Intel is working to develop on a global scale.
The company originally announced the breakthrough, known as silicon photonics, last year when it released its first products with the new technology embedded in transceivers and receivers for data centers. But Prouty’s conversation with the Journal marked the first time the company has publicly discussed Rio Rancho’s central role in not just developing that technology, but also in manufacturing the silicon-photonics components now used in Intel’s new data-center tools, and possibly in many other products in the future.
Prouty declined to discuss other silicon-photonics applications Intel may be developing or other technology that local teams may be exploring. But that work, alongside the plant’s traditional chip manufacturing operations, could provide a lot more stability going forward.
That’s good news for Rio Rancho and New Mexico in general. It brings a halt, at least for now, to downsizing at the local plant. Since late 2013, the workforce has fallen from about 3,300 employees to just over 1,000 as company investment bypassed New Mexico, going instead to plants in other states and countries to develop faster computer processing chips for personal computers.
But with Intel now aggressively moving into markets beyond PCs – including everything from data centers and next-generation wireless communications to autonomous vehicles – many more opportunities have emerged for sites like Rio Rancho to build foundational technologies needed to support those endeavors.
Prouty is the right woman in the right place and time to lead those efforts in New Mexico.
A California native, Prouty moved with her husband to New Mexico in 1994 to join Intel as a process engineer. She steadily worked her way up the ranks to become a department manager, and later Rio Rancho’s facility manager in charge of daily operations at the plant.
She replaced former New Mexico site manager Shai Rubin last summer after he became Intel manager in Arizona.
Over the years, Prouty has grown firm roots in New Mexico, generating a strong commitment to the local community.
“I didn’t even know Albuquerque and New Mexico when we first came, and I thought we’d probably just stay two or three years,” Prouty said. “But my husband and I have raised a family here, and we have a real appreciation for this state. We’ve learned to love it here.”
It’s unclear if new product development will eventually lead to more hiring in Rio Rancho. But stopping the downturn is a major boost for the local economy.
Even at 1,000-plus workers, Intel remains the largest technology employer in Rio Rancho. It also employs about 1,000 contract workers, about half of whom are generally on-site daily to work on specific projects, and it spent nearly $200 million on locally sourced goods and services in 2016.
Average compensation for an Intel employee, including wages, benefits and bonuses, totaled more than $140,000 in 2016. And those are “economic base jobs” that bring new money into the local economy from out of state, since Intel sells all its products elsewhere, said Sandoval County Commission Chair Don Chapman.
“That’s new money flowing into New Mexico and supporting other jobs here,” Chapman said.
Intel also remains a huge community contributor through employee volunteer programs and support for educational initiatives. Intel employees volunteered more than 31,000 hours in the community in 2016. The Intel Foundation, along with employees, contributed more than $1 million to education across the state.
“It’s very important for us that the community appreciates how engaged we are,” Prouty said. “People look to Intel as a leader in the community, and we continue to be so. We believe that’s vital to our success here.”
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