Lorain County Community College engineering students have big opportunities heading their way in the form of two new leading-edge chip factories being built in Ohio’s “silicon heartland” just outside Columbus.
Technological giant Intel, a business whose computer chips run everything from laptops to smart cars, announced on Jan 21 that they would be building two state-of-the-art factories in Licking County, Ohio, which has the potential to be the largest foundries in the world.
What this means for LCCC engineering students is new jobs by the tenfold. Currently, the college hosts one of the largest community college programs in Micro-electromechanical systems or MEMs. The program consists of both an associates’ and a new applied bachelor’s degree.
The new facilities are an initial $20 billion investment into what is known as advanced manufacturing and are aiming toward creating jobs to over 3,000 individuals, 70% of which will be community college graduates of the MEMs programs.
LCCC President Marcia Ballinger, Ph.D., is overjoyed by the news and what it means for the college. “LCCC and their programs that we have within our engineering area really prepared students for this,” she said of the news and added, “We are at an inflection point right now, not only in Ohio but in America.”
But why is LCCC more ready than most? The answer lies in the community surrounding it. Ballinger said, “We are uniquely situated in LCCC because we have the technology and classes available thanks to community response.” There are a lot of manufacturing businesses in Northeast Ohio such as Nordson Corp. and Lincoln Electric that rely on the college and its MEMs programs for a highly educated staff base.
Whole New Industry
Vice President of Strategic and Institutional Development Tracy Green, agreed with Ballinger on the levels of success these new foundries will bring. She says “this brings a whole new industry to Ohio as well as strength to the economy. Advanced manufacturing breathes new life into Ohio’s already rich history of manufacturing with the automobile factories and steel plants.”
And this industry is more than just Intel itself. Previously, 85% of all chip manufacturing was happening in China. The Covid-19 pandemic crippled the supply chain causing many of the chips to sit in factories unable to be shipped out. By moving the factories to U.S. soil, this issue is resolved. A second common concern that Intel’s moving will solve is the risk of encrypted cyber attacks. By being manufactured here in the United States and especially in Ohio, the foundries are closer to Washington, D.C., just in case problems were to arise.
Back in 2008, the college began looking at expanding its education in engineering in order to answer community calls to do so. Around the same time, technology hit its first major boom as the invention of the iPhone and other smart devices came to fruition. This led to an increase in technological programs such as MEMs in order to fit the future workforce and technology that was on the way.
Besides being one of the only community colleges in the world to offer a MEMs program, LCCC also is the only one to have the cleanrooms that are needed for work in the programs. And not just one either. LCCC plays host to three cleanroom labs in The Richard Desich Business & Entrepreneurship Center and The Richard Desich SMART Commercialization Center, located across from the Spitzer center connected to the main campus.
These cleanrooms are outfitted to be as sterile as possible so no particles can enter the room and interfere with the building process of the computer chips. Students working in these labs wear white gowns and full personal protective equipment including face shields, gloves, and shoe covers in order to keep the rooms sterilized.
Another major difference between advanced manufacturing and regular is where the work is done. All equipment sits overhead and in the open. Green added, LCCC “has been developing opportunities in the past 10 years in preparation for this. The three cleanroom classrooms are named by number and the lower the number, the cleaner it is. We here have a class 10,000, a class 1,000, and a class 100. Even the class 10,00 which is the dirtiest so to speak is still cleaner than a standard operating room.”
Lots of success
LCCC also runs these classes on the earn-and-learn model in which students can receive on-the-job training while learning at school. For the associate’s degree students attend classes two days a week and spend the other three at the businesses. Once a bachelor’s degree is achieved, students go on to work full time during the day and continue their remaining classes at night.
The college’s success has even led to visitors from other colleges coming to see how the cleanrooms and MEMs programs are run so they too prepare for their own. As the industry continues to develop and change, LCCC is ready to adapt to it, with many developments still to come.
The college was founded in 1963 as Ohio’s first community college with the goal to create an educated workforce for the industries in Lorain and the surrounding area to flourish. For Ballinger, technology “continues to be a large foundation of the college. It is in our DNA and we must continue to be involved to assure their competitiveness and success.”
As Ballinger puts it, “This semiconductor industry is to Lorain County now as steel and automotive were before.”