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Intel still shedding workers in New Mexico

RIO RANCHO, N.M. — The number of full-time workers directly employed by Intel Corp. near Rio Rancho fell by 37 percent in 2016 – from 1,900 salaried workers in 2015 to 1,200 as of December – according to the company’s latest annual report to the Sandoval County Commission, released Monday.

“Our head count is down from what we reported last spring in our 2015 report,” Intel spokeswoman Liz Shipley told the Journal in an email.

In fact, the reduction constitutes the sharpest annual decrease to date in direct, full-time employment at the plant since the company began laying off workers and reducing its head count through attrition in 2013. That year, the Sandoval County plant employed 3,300 people, meaning its salaried workforce has fallen by nearly two-thirds over the last four years.

The company still employs about 1,000 contract workers, about half of whom are generally on site daily to work on specific projects, Shipley said. But it’s not clear how many of those are full- or part-time workers.

Intel Corp. announced in April 2016 that it planned to lay off about 12,000 people worldwide, or about 11 percent of its global workforce. That restructuring affected the Sandoval County site, according to the Intel report.

About half the 700 employees who left last year were workers who retired. Most of the rest were relocated or chose a voluntary separation package. The rest received involuntary separation packages.

“I don’t like the trend,” said Sandoval County Commissioner Jay Block, who represents Corrales and Rio Rancho. “… It’s hard for people here to find high-paying jobs like those at Intel. That’s why this plant is so critical to our community.”

The workforce reductions reflect the Sandoval County plant’s aging technology compared with Intel operations in other places. The plant still makes 32-nanometer chips, while other, newer plants are producing 22- and 14-nanometer chips.

That refers to the size of the transistors, measured in nanometers, that are mounted on chips. As the transistors get smaller, the company can cram more of them onto each chip, greatly increasing computer processing power.

The company is now preparing to produce next-generation 10-nanometer chips, putting the Sandoval County plant far behind the curve.

Intel did report about $43 million in capital investments in the Sandoval County plant last year, or about $13 million more than in 2015. But the plant hasn’t received any major upgrades since 2009, when the plant went from 45- to 32-nanometer technology.

And the Sandoval County plant may not yet have hit bottom, because semiconductor markets and technology continue to evolve.

“I hope the Rio Rancho plant can still adapt to new technology to keep going, because we still want to keep the remaining jobs here ” Block said.

As of the end of 2016, those jobs paid more than $140,000 per year in average total compensation, including salary, benefits and bonuses, according to Intel.

Meanwhile, local officials are focused on diversifying Rio Rancho’s economy away from its traditional dependence on Intel, Mayor Gregg Hull said. That includes attracting new businesses, such as Safelite AutoGlass’ new call center in Rio Rancho.

“We’re seeing some good investment in other areas,” Hull said. “It’s all part of getting our eggs out of just one basket.”

As for Intel workers who have lost their jobs, New Mexico’s congressional delegation announced in early April that employees who are partly or completely laid off from the Sandoval County plant because of downsizing from the company’s global restructuring are now eligible for federal Trade Adjustment Assistance.

That program, funded by Congress and administered through the state Department of Workforce Solutions, provides benefits such as employment services, weekly income support payments, wage insurance and health coverage tax credits.

“Intel has been a vital part of the Rio Rancho community, and we will need to pull together to make up for the impact that job losses are having on our friends and neighbors,” Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said in an email to the Journal. “That’s why I have pushed for Trade Adjustment Assistance to ensure these workers get the training they need to find good jobs elsewhere in the community.”