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Intel NM achieves stable niche in tech innovation

The Intel plant in Rio Rancho. (Jim Thompson/Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Intel Corp.’s Rio Rancho campus is bustling with activity thanks to the chip makers’ local focus on building new, innovative technologies that support the company’s evolving global operations.

The company hired another 82 people at its New Mexico plant in 2020, growing its local workforce beyond 1,800 employees, according to the company’s annual report to Sandoval County, released Monday morning. That caps a three-year turnaround at the Rio Rancho campus, where the workforce has expanded by 64% after bottoming out at about 1,100 people in 2017.

The local site had been steadily shedding jobs since 2013, when it employed about 3,300 people, as major investments in new chip-making technology went to other U.S. sites and Intel plants overseas, rather than New Mexico.

In Arizona, for example, Intel opened a new $7 billion manufacturing facility last year. And in March, it announced another $20 billion investment there to build two more factories.

But in 2018, the New Mexico facility began hiring again, after Intel employees here developed new technologies to help speed data processing power for a range of industry applications.

The local breakthroughs started with “silicon photonics,” whereby Rio Rancho innovators developed new methods to fuse optics technology, or lasers, with traditional silicon-based electronic servers. That next-generation technology uses light to speed data transfer, compared with traditional digital communications that rely on electronics to transfer and process information.

That gave Rio Rancho a new company niche in silicon-photonics components, which are now used in Intel transceivers and receivers for data centers.

Next, Intel transferred development of a new memory technology to Rio Rancho, allowing the local plant to hire more people to work on it. That technology, called 3D XPoint, is based on a new type of engineering architecture that places data memory and storage much closer to microprocessors inside computers or data centers, allowing information to transfer back and forth at much faster speeds.

Finally, Rio Rancho has become the key corporate site for another new technology — the Embedded Multi-Die Interconnect Bridge, or EMIB. That’s basically a new chip that sits on top of processing, or memory chips, to connect and transfer data between them, said Rio Rancho site Public Affairs Director Erika Edgerly.

Those new technologies give Rio Rancho a unique role in Intel efforts to simplify and optimize semiconductor packaging, memory and connectivity.

“It makes our site critically important to Intel’s road map forward,” Edgerly told the Journal.

Intel made $290 million in capital investments last year in its Rio Rancho plant, which has an estimated $1.2 billion annual economic impact in New Mexico. It spent $200 million on products and services from local companies in 2020, and paid $598,000 in property taxes to Sandoval County.

And it’s still hiring.

“We have over 30 more jobs now posted for the New Mexico site,” said Intel spokesperson Linda Qian.

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