Chandler Intel plant provides glimpse at Central Ohio's … – The Business Journals

Cranes dot the skyline at the Chandler’s Intel cmapus.
Darryl Webb for ACBJ
CHANDLER, Ariz. – Ric Serrano’s family has been a fixture in downtown Chandler since 1919.
Displaced by the Mexican Revolution, relatives settled in the dusty town, drawn to its growing agriculture community. They opened a clothing shop that evolved into a local department store chain with multiple locations in the Phoenix area.
As malls gained popularity in the 1960s and ’70s, the family’s business declined, but another shift occurred: The family opened its first restaurant in 1979, again in downtown Chandler. 
“It was all storefront churches and pawn shops then,” said Serrano, president and CEO of Serrano’s Mexican Restaurants.
Two years later, tech giant Intel Corp. came to town, establishing an operation that today employs thousands and continues to drive economic development in the city — much as it’s expected to do when a similar operation starts running in New Albany. 
The tacos, tamales and signature bean dip served at Serrano’s before Intel arrived are the same dishes served today.
With generations of entrepreneurial spirit, the Serranos might well have kept their restaurant alive for more than 40 years regardless. But having an influx of thousands of new, well-paid workers and residents sure didn’t hurt.
Chandler’s population was 30,000 before Intel. By 1986, it had more than doubled.
Serrano’s doubled as well, opening a second restaurant near Intel’s operations in 1985.
“We did a heck of a lunch business,” Serrano said. “We knew their people well. We saw Intel badges all the time.”
Davey Saba’s family has a long Chandler history as well. He’s been in business since the 1970s. In addition to his Saba Realty, the family also owns Saba Western Wear, a downtown boot and apparel shop that’s been giving off the scent of well-oiled leather for more than 90 years.
“From a businessman’s perspective, I’d say it’s been a plus across the board,” Saba said of Intel. “Real estate, retail, restaurants – everybody’s benefited. Everyone knows someone who works there.”
Saba serves on the Downtown Chandler Community Partnership board and said Intel often supports downtown projects and events, despite its facility’s location several miles away.
Storefront churches and pawn shops disappeared over the years, replaced by a revitalized city center that includes blocks of restaurants, bars, breweries, hotels, a public park and a performing arts center.
“They’ve been good neighbors,” Saba said. “It’s been very good for the market. Expansion keeps the demand high.”
Intel’s investment in Chandler to date is $52 billion. With 12,000 employees, it’s the city’s largest employer by far. An additional 3,000 workers will be added as fifth and sixth microprocessor production facilities – called fabs – come online. Indirect employment is 55,000.
The estimated annual economic impact of Intel in Arizona is $8.6 billion.
It’s numbers like those that have excited officials from across New Albany, Licking County, Columbus and Ohio. Intel expects to invest $20 billion in the construction of its first two fabs here and has projected 7,000 construction jobs and 15,000 indirect jobs.
But it’s also teasing $100 billion in total investment as it anticipates a nearly endless need for expansion and upgrades driven by an industry starved of semiconductor chips.
“We’ve had 28 years of almost nonstop construction. This isn’t a one-and-done project,” said Aaron Blawn, corporate services site manager for Intel’s Ocotillo complex in Chandler.
That operation opened in 1996 and saw major expansions in 2000, 2006 and 2020. Two new facilities are being built now.
The cluster of cities that make up the Southeast Valley outside Phoenix – Tempe, Mesa, Chandler and Gilbert – is where the majority of Intel employees live. They have a combined population of more than 1.2 million, which is more populous than the Dayton-Springfield MSA and roughly on par with Akron-Canton.
The entire Phoenix MSA has more than 5.1 million people and is the 13th-largest in the United States. Columbus is 28th with 2.5 million.
Chandler might be a Phoenix suburb, but its scale rivals any Ohio city outside the three Cs. At 65 square miles, it’s roughly the size of Akron, and with about 275,000 people, its population is equal to Toledo’s.
When you view New Albany through the prism of Chandler, some similarities jump out. The Columbus suburb might loom large because of its reputation, but it’s still only about 12 square miles. Chandler was roughly 15 square miles prior to Intel.
Both communities are sandwiched between a growing metropolis on one side and open agricultural fields on the other.
But perhaps the most important parallel between New Albany and Chandler is this: intention.
Though the Arizona town started with farms, the move toward industry was a deliberate, decades-spanning mission.
That work began in earnest in the 1960s. In fact, Intel wasn’t the first tech company in Chandler. Rogers Corp. opened a 40,000-square-foot circuit board manufacturing plant there in 1967.
Inside the Chandler Museum, a quote by city founder Dr. A.J. Chandler adorns a wall: “I spend little time thinking of the past once a thing is done. It is more interesting to think of what the future has yet to be accomplished.”
New Albany evolved with a similar commitment to forward thinking that’s taken it from a town of a few hundred 40 years ago to the regional business hub that it is today.
Chandler developed a stretch called the Price Road Corridor. That’s where Intel built its second Chandler site, which opened in 1996. And still more businesses followed.
The 6,000-acre New Albany International Business Park began with financial services and retail tenants such as Discover Card, Abercrombie & Fitch Co. and the Bath & Body Works-supporting Beauty Park, but expanded further into tech with Amazon, Google and Facebook.
Direct and indirect jobs are tangible, but for a lot of Chandler’s businesses, Intel’s impact is more abstract. It’s not like every customer is asked where they work, but it’s clear the company’s workforce is out there and spending money.
“They’re certainly big here. We know that,” said James Hoffman, co-owner of SanTan Brewing, which opened in downtown Chandler in 2007. “We’ve hosted a lot of parties in our Brewer’s Reserve room. We love having them here.”
Barber Alex Salinas of the Country Clipper said since he moved to Chandler in 2002, the growth has been staggering. Downtown development now stretches several blocks beyond the borders that were in place 20 years ago. And those had grown from two decades prior.
Serrano’s interactions with Intel go beyond the daily walk-ins. The Mexican restaurant was the caterer for an annual Intel event in Chandler called Women in Leadership, which brought in more than 1,000 visitors. They’ve supplied the breakfast and lunch for five straight years. And the restaurant (as well as other downtown venues) hosted breakout dinners with groups in the evenings.
When the April 2020 event was canceled because of Covid-19, Intel still paid the full catering cost.
Gilbert-based Footprint is a biodegradable plastics company founded by a pair of former Intel engineers who worked on plastics-related projects at Intel. Founded in 2014, it’s a $1.6 billion business today with multiple facilities across the globe and its name on the Phoenix Suns’ arena.
Phoenix’s Wren House Brewing was started by Intel employees, one of whom is still with the company. It’s one of several area breweries that use barley grown by area farmers as part of an Intel water reclamation project.
Jeff Benkel has a unique perspective. The Chandler resident spent 15 years with a business that cleaned Intel’s clean rooms while also working with his family’s Scottsdale bakery, Arizona Bread Co.
He knows Columbus, too. He opened the wholesale bakery Buckeye Bread Co. on Alum Creek Drive last year and splits time between the cities.
“Believe me when I tell you that Columbus getting an Intel fab is one of the greatest economic drivers you can possibly imagine,” Benkel said.
His wife is a private school administrator in the Chandler area.
“Half the kids are Intel kids,” he said. “That school wouldn’t exist if it wasn’t for Intel.”
Sindy Ready has sold real estate in the Southeast Valley for 22 years. Her mom was in the business prior to that. She, too, has seen firsthand how a “sleepy farming community” has grown to an industry hub.
“They didn’t want to be a bedroom community for Phoenix,” Ready said. “They wanted to be a city of its own.”
The 1970s housing stock was rural and small. Home values before Intel were in the $50,000 to $75,000 range.
Local real estate agent Donna Ellsworth Bolen worked on the initial 160-acre sale to Intel. In a 2010 interview with the Chandler Museum, she said the city didn’t have a single four-bedroom home at the time.
“You better get started building some,” Ellsworth said she told a local builder.
Ready said larger homebuilders entered the market and began developing communities, starting near the Intel facility and expanding out from there.
“It really stepped up the quality of housing and retail in the community,” she said.
Near the Ocotillo fab, there is a higher-end community centered on an idyllic man-made lake. It was built in the late 1980s, largely with the Intel workforce in mind, she said.
A 3,000-square-foot home there that sold in 1988 for $188,000 sold this year for $890,000. Elsewhere around Chandler, a 1,400-square-foot, three-bedroom, two-bath home built in 1989 for $99,500 sold this year for $450,000.
Intel has said anecdotally that 75% of its employees live within 20 minutes of the facility, and Ready guesses that about 40% of Chandler workers actually live in Chandler.
“The west side (of Chandler) pretty much took off after the Intel plant located there,” former Mayor Jay Tibshraeny said in a 2004 interview with the Chandler Museum. “It basically built out in 10 years from that time. All the housing went in. Most of commercial was built within 10 to 12 years.”
It’s not just the high-skill, high-pay workforce that’s there day in and day out. As a global business, there’s a steady stream of visitors, events and projects drawing people from around the world.
“They’ve made us a more diverse cultural community,” said Terri Kimble, CEO of the Chandler Chamber of Commerce.
That means local hotels see more business and more money is spent in and around the area.
Hundreds of Ohio-based employees, for example, will spend a year to 18 months at Intel facilities, most likely those in Chandler, to learn their jobs prior to the New Albany plant opening.
Intel’s arrival in Chandler also spurred increased cooperation among neighboring communities.
In an interview with the Chandler Museum, Jim Patterson, who was mayor from 1980 to 1984, said a master plan put in place at the time laid out sewage and water projects for the region, which included working with the Gila River Reservation. It tied new school construction and new parks.
Chandler worked with neighboring Mesa to bring in a Hughes Helicopter plant in 1984, a project that couldn’t go into Chandler because it didn’t have an airport, but was a fit for Mesa and a benefit to the overall region.
Kimble said Intel’s arrival forced the city to collaborate with surrounding communities on issues such as infrastructure – roads, utilities, water and sewage – and safety services, including fire and police.
“This is a good thing,” she said. “It breeds a whole ecosystem.”
NXP, Garmin, Microchip, Waymo and Northrop Grumman are among the dozens of tech businesses that have followed Intel into Chandler.
And they’re still coming. Sister publication Phoenix Business Journal reported that an estimated half million square feet of industrial space already has been leased by Intel suppliers and related businesses in the 12 months following the announcement of additional fab construction.
Intel’s approach, which was honed in Chandler, is an active partnership.
“We build these factories and we may call them small cities, but we don’t build cities. We partner with them,” said Jim Evers, Intel’s general manager for its Ohio operations.
Though the Intel site will be part of New Albany, the company’s impact likely will come to smaller communities in Licking County as well, such as Johnstown or Granville.
Accounts from Intel’s initial arrival and subsequent expansion in Chandler don’t show substantial pushback.
Bolen said the town was so dependent on farming, a bad year for a few farms meant a bad year for the entire community. That helped the push to diversify the economy.
Tibshraeny said when Intel wanted to build what is now the Ocotillo complex, there was little demand for that land.
New Albany has a well-established base of businesses and vastly superior infrastructure compared with pre-Intel Chandler, a town that still had dirt roads when the company first broke ground there.
But there are clear needs – more housing and workforce chief among them. Those are regional needs independent of Intel’s arrival, but the facility is bound to shine a brighter light on these necessities.
In Ohio, the immediate issues are likely to be related to construction.
The Ocotillo site in Chandler directly abuts a retirement community called Sun Lakes. Evers said the company remains in close contact with its neighbors, especially now that it’s expanding closer to that border.
Based on community feedback, Intel is building a higher wall along the property border and is replacing eucalyptus trees with a variety that doesn’t shed as aggressively.
Blawn said Intel works to keep construction dust contained and that construction is limited to certain hours.
“Life is going to change. We know everyone doesn’t agree with that,” Evers said. “We’re a great partner and neighbor.
“Trust comes over time and in the end I think people are going to be happy Intel is here.”
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