Intel delays Colorado fab opening

Nationwide labor shortage puts squeeze on cleanroom expansions

Chris Anderson

COLORADO SPRINGS, CO—A shortage of electricians and clean pipe fitters has caused Intel Corp. to delay the opening of its $1.2 billion manufacturing plant here.

The 120,000-square-foot cleanroom, originally slated to run silicon by Thanksgiving, won't be up and running until later in the first quarter this year, says Chuck Mulloy, spokesman for Intel.

“It's a difficult area to find enough electricians and clean pipe fitters,” Mulloy notes. “Though some of that has been mitigated by the delay in construction of two new breweries. So some of the pipe fitters that deal with the clean piping systems for them have been transferred to our job.” Even with the reinforcements, he says, the project was estimated to be short 150 to 300 workers, mostly electricians.

While the labor shortage is the main culprit, other delays in retrofitting the building, purchased from Rockwell International last spring, have slowed the completion of the cleanroom. “We have found that because of our unique construction methods, this job using the existing building has been a little more complicated,” says Mulloy.

Yet the delay in opening the plant should also be put into perspective, Mulloy notes. The job is a rare retrofit of an existing building for Intel. “It's the first time we've done this,” says Mulloy.

While the aggressive schedule of the planned plant opening left little breathing room for labor shortages, the worker crunch is not unique to Colorado. “You just can't expect to run your business the way you used to if you want to get your projects done,” said Blake Hodess, president of Hodess Building, Inc. (North Attleboro, MA). “The days of going out and getting competitive bids on your projects, then choosing the lowest price, are over.”

Hodess, who does the bulk of his work up and down the East Coast, says he grapples regularly with shortages of workers who put in high purity piping and HVAC.

As a result, Hodess says he informs companies wanting to build a new plant on the complexities of today's labor market. “We don't want to change their expectations for how long it will take to complete a project, because they are the ones paying our bills,” he says. “But we do need to educate them on how to do this differently.” This includes pre-negotiated deals with subcontractors and developing tight working relationships with companies in particular trade areas.

Ted Johnson of IDC (Portland, OR) says his construction company faces the same challenges on the West Coast. “Times are busy, as everyone knows,” he says. “Certainly the industry is facing challenges today for resources, but so far we've been able to meet the needs of our clients.”

Hodess thinks he knows why there is such a shortage of skilled workers in the construction trades. “In the early 1990s people moved out of the industry,” he says. “Now we're at the bottom of the totem pole, looking for anyone who comes out of college with an engineering degree. And that's probably not going to change.”


Easily post a comment below using your Linkedin, Twitter, Google or Facebook account. Comments won't automatically be posted to your social media accounts unless you select to share.