Micron Picks Manassas, VA as Site for High Speed Memory Chip Factory

NEWS ANALYSIS: New high-speed memory chip manufacturing facility will expand Micron’s production capacity in Virginia and contribute as much as $1 billion in annual technology exports to the U.S. economy.

Micron NAND Chip Plant in Virginia

MANASSAS, VA – Virginia governor Ralph Northam helped executives from Micron Technology break ground on a new manufacturing facility in this city of 43,000 near Washington, DC Aug. 29, saying that the $3 Billion dollar investment is the largest ever in Virginia by a private company.

Micron already has a large manufacturing facility here that employees about 1,200 technicians and engineers. The existing facility makes primarily NAND memory chips used in computers and storage devices such as Solid-State Drives.

The new facility is intended to leverage the future demand for smart devices in the automotive industry, in autonomous systems, and in other applications that require the latest high-speed memory chips. The new facility, which will include clean-room manufacturing and a global R&D facility, is set to begin operations in the second half of 2019. It’s expected to employ about 1,100 workers, mostly engineers and technicians.

Micron chose the Manassas, Va. location despite the efforts of Singapore and China to land the plant. This is due partly to incentives offered by the state and partly because of the availability of skilled employees. Manassas is also the location of manufacturing facilities for Lockheed Martin, BAE Systems and military drone maker Aurora Flight Sciences, a Boeing subsidiary. It’s also near the Dulles tech corridor as well as a  number of government facilities including the National Reconnaissance Office.

“Micron's Manassas site manufactures our long-lifecycle products that are built using our mature process technologies, and primarily sold into the automotive, networking and industrial markets," said Micron President and CEO Sanjay Mehrotra, in a prepared statement.

"These products support a diverse set of applications such as industrial automation, drones, the IoT, and in-vehicle experience applications for automotive.” Mehrotra said that Micron is currently the largest maker of such systems globally.

The new production facility will make some of Micron’s most advanced chip designs as the demand for high-speed memory chips continues to grow, Micron officials said.

By locating the facility in the United States, Micron will avoid tariffs for sales to U.S. customers, while also helping boost U.S. by an estimated $1 Billion annually. Micron’s global research and development center, which will also be located within the facility, will employ about 100 scientists and engineers conducting research into applications in automotive and autonomous systems.

The Northern Virginia area near Manassas is being considered by Amazon as a location for its second headquarters, which is projected to be a $5 Billion facility. When asked, the governor said that while Amazon hasn’t made any formal announcement, he thinks a Virginia location near Micron and the other technology near there is compelling. In addition to technology manufacturing, that area is the location of a number of major data centers for Amazon, Google, Microsoft, Apple and others.

The governor told eWEEK that he’s very confident of Virginia’s efforts to convince Amazon to locate in the region. While he wouldn’t describe exactly what incentives the state is offering Amazon, many observers think it’s similar to the incentives offered to Micron, and to a number of other manufacturers that recently decided to locate in the state. Virginia offered Micron a $70 Million grant to build here.

“Meeting the ever-increasing demands for automotive applications will require significantly greater memory as the dual trends of advanced safety and autonomy drive the industry forward,” said Karsten Mueller, vice president, Corporate Materials Management, Global Commodity Electronics at ZF Friedrichshafen AG in a prepared statement.

ZF is a German automotive components manufacturer, supplying BMW, Mercedes-Benz and others. “Micron's decision to expand the manufacturing and R&D capabilities at this IATF-certified facility is another indication that this growth should only accelerate in the future.” ZF is heavily involved in autonomous vehicles in Europe.

In his remarks, Governor Northam said that a major factor in attracting Micron and other technology companies is Virginia’s record of openness to people from anywhere, representing a variety of cultures. “We are an inclusive state,” he said. Northam said that the atmosphere and the fact that Virginia makes it easy for businesses to locate there helps explain what he called “Virginia’s booming tech sector.”

The new facility also speaks to Micron’s understanding of what is coming to the future of digital systems. Micron’s Mehrotra said his company is building the manufacturing capacity now because the demand for very fast memory is already beginning. “It’s at the heart of IoT,” he said. He noted that the demand for fast decision making requires fast memory, and that today’s automotive systems are increasing the demand for such fast memory.

While Micron officials didn’t specifically mention the impending growth of 5G, they said the next generation of smartphones will require high-speed memory chips and the competing demand for them is only going to get more intense over the next few years.

Micron’s total 2018 capital expenditures will be about $8 Billion, according to the Wall Street Journal. Devoting $3 Billion of that to a single facility is a major move, and it indicates that Micron is planning to play an even bigger role in producing memory for future global needs.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...