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Head of Rio Rancho’s Intel plant to retire

kirbyintelfromfileRIO RANCHO, N.M. — Kirby Jefferson, the head of Intel’s Rio Rancho plant, has decided to retire after two years in the position.Jefferson, who took over as plant manager in April 2013, will step down in October. The site’s factory manager Bert Blaha, a 28-year Intel veteran, will replace Jefferson, spokeswoman Liz Shipley said in an email Wednesday.

Shipley said Jefferson made the “personal decision to retire after a long and successful career of 35 years at Intel.” She said Jefferson and Blaha were unavailable for comment Wednesday.

The Rio Rancho site, which opened in 1980, has been shedding jobs as the corporation has chosen to make investments in some of its other plants around the world. As recently as 2005, Rio Rancho Intel had 5,300 employees.  Now, it has about 2,300, Shipley said.

Blaha has held several factory management positions in Arizona and has managed the Rio Rancho Fab 11X computer chip plant for the last four years. He earned a bachelor’s in electrical engineering degree from the University of Notre Dame and an executive MBA degree from Case Western Reserve University.

Jefferson, when named to his current position, told the Journal he was a native New Mexican and he was “excited to come home and be a member of the Intel New Mexico team.” He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of New Mexico and joined Intel in 1980 as a production supervisor at the company’s Fab 2 facility in Santa Clara, Calif.

During his career, Jefferson was involved in several factory startups and was general manager of Intel Semiconductor in Dalian, China, for eight years before returning to New Mexico.

In recent years, there has been speculation about the future of the facility. Jefferson fueled some of that at an Albuquerque Economic Forum breakfast in spring 2014, when he predicted a drop in local production in 18 to 24 months.

The last time the plant received a major corporate investment was in 2009, when it landed $2.5 billion to upgrade the facility from 45-nanometer to 32-nanometer chips.

Since then, Rio Rancho has lost out on three rounds of investment by Intel for next-generation chip technology while the corporation has invested in plants in Arizona and Ireland, among other locations.

In fall 2013, Intel announced it was reducing the workforce by 400 employees through voluntary “redeployments.” That move took the workforce from 3,300 to around 2,900 and then down to its current 2,300.

Shipley wouldn’t comment directly on the plant’s chances for a new round of investment.

“We constantly assess our investments and plans, but it’s not our practice to engage in speculation about those plans,” she said, in an email.