Intel’s recently announced Ohio chip manufacturing complex could begin construction by the end of this year, setting the stage for a long-term, multibillion-dollar development effort many experts have likened to building a small city from scratch.

Announced Jan. 21, the initial $20-billion phase of Intel’s plan for the 1,000-acre site east of Columbus calls for constructing two chip fabrication facilities, or “fabs,” that would begin production in 2025. The company says six additional fabs could be added at the site over the next decade, along with facilities for support operations and an “ecosystem” of suppliers and technology partners.

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger has stated publicly that the estimated $100-billion full build-out could make the Ohio site “the largest silicon manufacturing location on the planet.”

Intel has not announced a lead designer or contractor for the facility, but Jamie Cook, lead construction sector market analyst for Credit Suisse, said in a Jan. investor note that she considers the project “a positive" for the engineering and construction firms she monitors and "positively positioned for [semiconductor industry capital expenditures] are Jacobs, Fluor and AECOM.”

Hensel Phelps and Hoffman Construction have also been active in major semiconductor projects, with the latter serving as construction manager at-risk for Intel’s recently completed 1.3-million-sq-ft Fab 42 in Chandler, Ariz.

Representatives of Ohio engineering and construction firms should see a steady stream of opportunities from the project, according to industry leaders.

“Intel will need environmental studies, site development, surveys, roads and bridges, broadband, utilities and workforce access on roads, transit and even trails,” says American Council of Engineering Cos. Ohio president Beth Easterday. “All of these needs, along with spin-off growth in the Columbus region spurred by Intel’s investment, means years of work for Ohio’s engineering industry.”

Richard Hobbs, state Associated General Contractors executive director, says the Intel project comes on top of what is already “an explosion of construction growth” in central Ohio. Depending on the project schedule, “there could be a challenge in finding the number of construction craftsmen needed for this mammoth facility, but we love challenges like these.” he says.

Water projects likely will be a key focus of the Intel project, given the nature of the semiconductor manufacturing process. Citing a longstanding commitment to sustainability, Intel has pledged to apply green design and construction principles to the Ohio site, with new factories powered entirely by 100% renewable electricity. The company also hopes to achieve net positive water use and zero total waste to landfill.

With demand for semiconductors unlikely to abate in the coming decades, Intel’s planned Ohio facilities represent part of an industry effort to boost domestic chip production, which the Semiconductor Industry Association currently estimates at 12% of the world’s supply. A $20-billion project to add two additional fabs at Intel’s Arizona site broke ground in September 2021, as did Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Corp.’s $12-billion factory in north Phoenix.

Samsung’s planned $17-billion semiconductor facility near Austin is set to get underway this spring, while Global Foundries has announced plans to build a second fab in upstate New York. Other semiconductor plants could enter the pipeline should Congress appropriate $52 billion in industry subsidies authorized under the 2021 CHIPS for America Act.

The funding allocation is part of the US Innovation and Competition Act, which has passed the US Senate but remains stalled in the House of Representatives.