Following the 30-minute conference, the “major players,” including those from Intel, Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull, Sandoval County Commission Chairman David Heil, Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham and a trio of Congressional delegates from Washington, D.C., posed for a thumbs-up photo opportunity. Gary Herron photo.

Being mentioned on CBS-TV’s “60 Minutes” is one thing for Rio Rancho, but formally learning that Intel will invest $3.4 billion into its 40-year-old plant in the City of Vision is even bigger.

Intel CEO Pat Gelsinger appeared on “60 Minutes” May 2 to discuss the semiconductor crisis, confirming on the show that Intel’s Rio Rancho fabrication facility is due for a $3.5 billion upgrade.

The next morning, a stage was set up on the west side of Intel’s 218-acre campus and Keyvan Esfarjani, Intel senior vice president and general manager of Manufacturing and Operations, announced just after 10 a.m. that the huge investment – later termed by New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham as the largest private-sector investment in state history – will kick off a “next era of innovation,” resulting in at least 700 high-tech jobs, 1,000 construction jobs and supporting 3,500 jobs in the community.”

Manufacturing three key Intel technologies is the focus, Esfarjani said. Those technologies “play a unique role in Intel’s new era of innovation by simplifying and optimizing semiconductor packaging, memory and connectivity … and build processors in an entirely new way,” stacking them vertically instead of side-by-side to “pack more transistors into a given area and deliver break-through products that meet the diverse needs of our customers around the world.

“Our Rio Rancho campus here is an important part of Intel’s global manufacturing network, and with today’s announcement, our New Mexico operations are even more critical and vital to Intel’s success,” he said. “We are proud to make this investment in New Mexico and to build on more than 40 years of Intel’s rich history in New Mexico.”

Lujan Grisham was presented with a commemorative wafer before her remarks, when she touted several of Intel’s behind-the-scenes contributions during the pandemic, which included the donation of 65,000 pieces of personal protective equipment.

“We can count on Intel to support New Mexicans and New Mexico,” she said.

U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-N.M., used an analogy that the large-wafer “chips” were “the flat enchiladas,” and U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Luján, also D-N.M., was pleased to see that “New Mexico continues to be an innovation hub.”

U.S. Sen. Ben Ray Lujan watches as Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull welcomes Gov. Michelle Lujan to Rio Rancho with an elbow bump. Gary Herron photo.

Rio Rancho Mayor Gregg Hull told the Observer that the Intel announcement had been kept “under the radar,” but that “whispers have been running around this past week.”

“I’ve always had confidence that Intel is in the game for the long run,” Hull said. “They’ve always been a great partner with Rio Rancho, Sandoval County and the state of New Mexico, and I am very grateful for the legislators – including the county and the state legislators – and everybody involved that helped facilitate this renewed commitment to our community.

“This is going to mean a lot for us as far as jobs, development and growth. This is going to be a shot in the arm for local businesses,” he continued. “This is something that we need, right now. This is energizing, this is exciting, and while we’ve been really constrained by COVID, especially from a business perspective, having an announcement like this  come out, right now, as we’re emerging from COVID, couldn’t have been better timing.”

Hull said he wasn’t sure when the true impact will be felt, but, “I think, a year from now, we’re going to see the real economic impact.”

Gary Herron | Observer staff writer