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Northeast Ohio colleges vying for a part of Intel’s investment

A rendering shows early plans for two new leading-edge Intel processor factories in Licking County, Ohio. Credit: Intel Corporation

Intel and a $20 billion investment are coming to Ohio. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine forecast that two planned semiconductor chip factories will be “transformative” for the state. But the tech giant’s two planned facilities will be outside Columbus, hours from Cleveland.

Despite the distance, Northeast Ohio’s higher education leaders seem optimistic about the parts their institutions could play in helping to boost talent pipelines. They’re interested in earning part of the $50 million in grants and investments Intel has earmarked specifically for the state’s institutions over the next decade, too.

The company issued a request for proposals, or RFP, for that money. The funding is slated to help address both a shortage of skilled tech workers and semiconductor manufacturing challenges in part by funding a “collaborative, multi-institution research and education program that will emphasize gaining real-world experience and innovating in semiconductor fabrication.”

Between five and 10 proposals are anticipated to be funded in this first round. There are about 185 public universities, regional branch campuses, private colleges, community colleges, and adult workforce and training centers across the state.

Portions of the funding will go toward things like curriculum development, faculty training and lab upgrades. A 28-page PowerPoint shared during a March information session highlighted how Intel plans to evaluate institutions’ proposals, a list that includes increasing minorities in STEM, cross-institutional engagement, and relevance to Intel, Ohio and the industry as a whole.

The choice to build near the state’s capital, of course, means a close distance to Ohio State University. The Buckeye State’s flagship university enrolled nearly 62,000 students last fall and is one of only five R1 universities in the state. That distinction means an institution has a very high level of research activity.

By comparison, Cleveland State University had a full-time enrollment of about 12,000 students in fall 2021. CSU and many local institutions have seen declining enrollments amplified by the pandemic.

Meredith Bond, CSU’s interim vice president for research and innovation, believes the institution aligns well with what Intel has outlined. She said the university is building programs to support computation-based research. There have been additional faculty hires recently, she added, and many are coming in with new ideas as well as their own grant funding.

“I am convinced we have people who have expertise, the intellectual power and knowledge that would go up against anybody else, not just in the state of Ohio, but in the country,” said Bond.

Plus, Bond said, it’s “very clear” that Intel doesn’t want to see each institution work separately. The secret sauce for Northeast Ohio to be competitive, then, could be its strength in numbers. There are nearly 30 nonprofit colleges and universities across the region.

Partnerships and pipelines of various types already exist between institutions, as well as with local companies that provide students with hands-on learning experiences.

The University of Akron, for example, already has worked and established relationships with manufacturers such as Schaeffler, Goodyear, Timken and Parker Hannifin. Officials said they’re planning to figure out ways UA’s STEM programs and graduates can help Intel.

Kent State University is another place planning to highlight collaboration. The university is putting together a team from KSU and surrounding — though unnamed — higher ed institutions “to develop a proposal responsive to the needs of Intel and our students,” said Doug Delahanty, interim vice president for research and sponsored programs, in a statement provided to Crain’s.

“As an R1 research institution with a focus on access and completion, this funding will provide wonderful opportunities for the students we serve,” Delahanty said.

Kent is Northeast Ohio’s largest institution in terms of full-time enrollment, as well as its only public R1 university. The only private R1 in Cleveland is Case Western Reserve University.

Representatives from Intel have already visited the University Circle campus, according to CWRU officials. The visit included meeting with engineering faculty members who work on research linked to the semiconductor industry and touring the campus’ facilities.

That visit showed the university’s “significant” capacity to provide “exceptional, experiential-based education” in the semiconductor industry, school officials said, adding that the institution already has graduates working in semiconductor firms on the coasts.

Intel’s Ohio investment is expected to generate about 10,000 jobs, along with scores of other employment opportunities that will support what Intel is doing. The jobs are expected to require a variety of certifications and degrees.

“While details are still in the works on our potential role alongside Intel, we believe that 70% of the 3,000 factory jobs will require an associate’s degree — with many of those career training programs already in place at Cuyahoga Community College,” said William Gary, executive vice president of workforce, community and economic development at Cuyahoga Community College, in a statement to Crain’s.

Intel also is earmarking an additional $50 million in national funding opportunities, an amount that will be matched by the National Science Foundation.

Amy Morona covers higher education for Crain’s Cleveland Business, in partnership with Open Campus.

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