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Stephanie Paterik
Jun. 26, 2004 12:00 AM
When Intel's computer-chip-making factory Fab 12 began rising from a swath of Chandler farmland a decade ago, it promised high-paying jobs, national attention and a $1.3 billion asset to the local economy.

It was the world's largest private construction project in 1994, and two years later, about 1,000 employees began filing into the stark white "clean rooms" to operate the equipment that makes computer chips.

But fast-evolving technology already has rendered the facility a dinosaur, which is why Intel is spending $2 billion to outfit it with the most up-to-date equipment. The renovation began in late April, and since then more than 800 employees have been temporarily relocating to Oregon, New Mexico and Ireland to learn the latest technology.

"I realize it doesn't get as much press as BOB, but it's the equivalent of five Bank One Ballparks," said Intel Chief Executive Officer Craig Barrett of Paradise Valley. "We're putting $2 billion in the ground in Chandler because the computer workforce is valued, productive, efficient, well-trained and contributes to the bottom line."

The facility won't create new jobs. But the upgrade is significant for what it will keep here, not for what it will bring. Fab 12 could have been shut down and hundreds of jobs lost, said Dave Olney, site development manager for Intel.

In addition to keeping high-paying jobs in town - the starting salary for technicians is $40,000 - Fab 12 will continue to sustain local engineering and service companies. It also boosts the community's assessed property value, said Garrett Newland, economic development director for the city.

Steve Megli and David Aires, both of Ahwatukee Foothills, will manage the factory. Aires is one of the original managers, and Megli joins him from Fab 22.

Jobs in the new fabrication facility are highly coveted, said Jeanne Forbis of Chandler, Intel spokeswoman. The Santa Clara, Calif., company opened the opportunity to workers in Fab 12 and Fab 22, both at 4500 S. Dobson Road. Starting last month, about 400 workers headed to an Intel plant in Hillsboro, Ore., 400 to Rio Rancho, N.M., and 20 to Leixlip, Ireland.

For Jo Sepulveda, 42, of Gilbert, it was a chance to try something new. She readily volunteered to learn the new technology in Albuquerque.

"It's a great opportunity to grow with Intel and the new technology," she said. "The best thing is the experience and the change in pace, and the new tool sets and technology that are being used. Intel has come a long way."

When Fab 12 is upgraded, it will make 300-millimeter wafers, which hold about 85 more chips than 200mm wafers. That means the plant will be able to make more computer chips in the same amount of time, saving money in the long run.

This is the first time an old plant has been transformed into a cutting edge 300mm facility, Forbis said. If successful, the project could pave the way for future upgrades around the globe.