Article in The Albuquerque Tribune: Intel’s new testing facility brightens economic hopes and draws a New Mexican back home

After nine years of living abroad, New Mexico native Carol Elliott has two words for what she misses most about her home state: “Green chile.”

“And the weather,” says the 38-year-old Intel employee stationed in Costa Rica. “I actually really miss thunderstorms and the snow storms. It doesn’t snow in Costa Rica.”

As manufacturing manager with Intel, Elliott has lived and worked in places such as Ireland, Israel, China, Malaysia, India, the Phillippines and, for the past year, Costa Rica. 

Now she has the chance to live in New Mexico again, this time as one of about 150 worldwide Intel employees rounded up to help run — along with more than 300 new workers — a microchip testing facility in Rio Rancho slated for an early 2006 opening.

“First time home for Christmas in probably eight years,” Elliott said. “We’re (Elliott’s family) already talking about Christmas and it’s only July.”

She said the chance to move back to New Mexico — where her entire immediate family lives in the Albuquerque area — was a “very nice surprise.” 

Items on Elliott’s New Mexico to-do list include taking a drive through the Jemez Mountains, eating at Maria’s restaurant in Santa Fe and hitting the slopes at Pajarito ski area in Los Alamos.

But she may have to get her deeds done fast.

Intel’s proposed facility — a former 50,000 square-foot microchip factory of the company set to undergo a $105 million refurbishment — is scheduled to operate from early 2006 to mid 2007. 

Its main purpose will be to test Intel’s newly manufactured microchips for quality prior to distribution. Emissions from the facility will be close to nothing, and its water usage will be insignificant, said Augusta Meyers, communications manager with Intel.  

More than 300 employees, who must have a minimum of a high school diploma, will be hired to work at the new facility. Their annual salaries will range from $21,000 to $30,000, Meyers said.

That bodes well not just for Rio Rancho, but the entire state, says Noreen Scott, executive director of the Rio Rancho Economic Development Corporation.

“That’s a great addition,” she said. “People come from all over the state to take jobs there. Their presence really reverberates throughout the whole state.”

The factory’s planned refurbishment into a testing facility came about due to a rise in worldwide demand for Intel products, Meyers said. Funds for the $105 million refurbishment are coming from a $16 billion bond passed in 2004 by Sandoval County. 

“When we gave them that bond, it was about epxanding the jobs in Sandoval County,” said Sandoval County Commissioner Jack Thomas. “That’s exactly what that money was for. Things are looking bright and I hope the jobs stay forever.”

Meyers said part of the $105 million investment in the former factoryy is being used to upgrade it for use as something else at the end of its roughly 18-month run. 

“Intel goes in and out of hiring phases depending on the demand, so who knows what that’s going to look like in another two years,” she said. 

Elliott said the limited duration of her work in New Mexico will make it more like a long vacation, every moment made sweeter by the knowledge she will soon leave.

Or not. 

“I might get back to New Mexico and decide that I can never leave,” Elliott said. “The plane trips aren’t as fun as they used to be, especially when they’re 18 hours to Asia.” 

But she said a travel bug still thrives within her, and it’s likely she’ll live abroad for a while before returning to New Mexico for good. 

“When you’re away from it,” she said, “you really miss it, and appreciate it more.”

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