Intel plant manager eager to start work on Ohio's biggest economic development project

Mark Williams
The Columbus Dispatch
Jim Evers will be Intel's plant manager for the plants being built in Licking County.

The executive tapped by Intel to run the two factories the semiconductor company plans for Licking County is eager to get started on Ohio's largest economic development project.

Intel expects to break ground this fall with a goal of producing semiconductors in 2025, but Jim Evers, who has been Intel's plant manager in Arizona for the past 11 years, is hoping to move more swiftly.

"I want to go fast. We’re doing everything we can to try to improve that, to speed that up. There’s a lot of work that needs to be done to prepare for that moment. I think we’re making appropriate progress," Evers told The Columbus Dispatch and the Newark Advocate.

Intel announced on Thursday that it has picked its first contractors for the project, companies focused on the early stage of excavation work at the site; further announcements are expected in coming months.

What products those plants will make hasn't been determined yet, Evers said, but it figures to be a mix, including Intel's most popular products to power computers. Evers said the plants also could produce chips for companies that design, but don't make.

Evers takes Ohio sight unseen

Evers, 51, has worked for Intel 28 years, starting at an entry level operator position and working his way up to plant manager.

Coming to Ohio, however, was not on his agenda, said Evers, an Arizona native.

Besides the two factories in Ohio, Silicon Valley-based Intel has announced a separate $20 billion project in Chandler, a Phoenix suburb, in which Intel will add two factories to the four it has already there.

"I'm talking all these plans with my fellow factory managers. We're super excited about this," he said when a boss said to him, "Hey, there's another opportunity coming up."

Evers had not been to Ohio before taking the job, but the notion of building Intel's first greenfield site in 40 years was too tempting, especially given the aggressive expansion plan that's been laid out by CEO Pat Gelsinger to bring production of computer chips back to the United States and Europe. Most production has been largely shipped to Asian countries in recent decades.

Gelsinger has said the Ohio site could eventually be home to eight to 10 factories, calls fabs, with the company rolling out a factory every year or two, meaning it could be bigger than the Arizona site and be built faster.

"That opportunity was sold to me sight unseen," Evers said. "I said yes, I'll take this opportunity.

"To me this is the capstone of my career.".

The search is on for diverse talent 

The two plants will employ 3,000 workers earning an average of $135,000 per year.

Because Intel is starting from scratch, it is easier to build a diverse workforce than a place where Intel already has a history, Evers said.

"Underrepresented minorities, tech females, this is the talent we want to bring in," he said. "We want to bring the most-qualified and the best of those groups.’’

Intel also places a priority on hiring veterans.

"To start from the ground floor, we can do some amazing things with it," he said.

Evers said Intel likely will transfer some employees to New Albany to give the factories a base of experienced workers. It also wants to hire young workers for the plants before they open and send them to other Intel operations to gain experience before returning to New Albany.

Most Intel workers hold a two-year degree; for veterans, it's the equivalent of the experience they have. Other jobs will require four-year degrees or higher.

The new plants mean today's high school students could be tomorrow's Intel workers as engineers or technicians earning good incomes, he said.

Welcome to Ohio

Evers expects to spend about a week a month in Ohio before moving, likely this fall.

"I've been pleasantly surprised. It's been super-welcoming," he said.

His first interaction with an Ohioan gave him a taste of Midwest friendliness when he unknowingly dropped his phone as he got out of his car in Columbus.

He got back into car and heard a "boom, boom, boom on my window," he said.

A driver had noticed that he dropped his phone, "stopped, turned around, drove back, grabbed my phone and said, 'You dropped this.' "

That first visit also introduced Evers to Ohio weather.

“It was 10 degrees out and we’re walking through Columbus. I thought I'm kind of tough, I've got a jacket and scarf," he said. "We come around a corner of a building that had been blocking the wind, and the wind hits my face. I didn’t know wind could feel like that. That was my welcome-to-Ohio moment.’’ 

mawilliams@dispatch.com

@BizMarkWilliams