‘Silicon Heartland’ Benefit for Ohio, but Families Mourn Homes

JOHNSTOWN, Ohio (AP) – When President Joe Biden applauded Intel Corp. of building a $20 billion semiconductor operation on “1,000 empty acres of land” in Ohio, Tressie Corsi was not pleased.

The 85-year-old woman has lived on 7 acres of that land since she and her late husband Paul built a home there 50 years ago. They raised four children there and welcomed several generations of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, including some who lived next door.

“You can see it’s not a vacant lot,” Corsi said on a recent hot summer day as he sat on the porch.

Corsi and over 50 other owners on Intel’s website are not being forcibly removed. Two holding companies working on behalf of Intel have spent millions on deals for homeowners, often well above market rates. The companies paid Corsi just over $1 million, and Intel is putting her in a rent-free home before she moves into her new home.

But money was never the issue, Corsi said.

“It was the happiness we had,” she said. “That’s what really hurts.”

Intel announced the Ohio development in January as part of the company’s efforts to alleviate a global shortage of chips that power everything from phones to cars and appliances. It is the largest investment in economic development in Ohio’s history.

“Silicon Heartland – a new epicenter of cutting-edge technology!” Intel CEO Patrick Gelsinger tweeted about the announcement. An Ohio clothing company quickly followed suit with T-shirts declaring Ohio “The Silicon Heartland” with computers overlaid on the state seal.

Construction of two factories, or fabs, is due to begin this year, with production coming on stream in late 2025. Total investment could reach $100 billion over the decade, with six additional factories in the future. The project is expected to create 3,000 jobs at the company with an average salary of $135,000 and 7,000 construction jobs. Dozens of Intel suppliers will provide more jobs.

Supporters promote the economic development potential of the project and its national security benefits. The US share of the world chip-making market has dropped from 37% in 1990 to 12% today, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association, and shortages have become a potential risk.

Biden pushed for passage of the federal CHIPS for America Act, currently stalled in Congress, which would provide billions for semiconductor research and production. The “scope and pace of our expansion in Ohio will largely depend on CHIPS Act funding,” said Intel spokeswoman Linda Qian, although there is no indication the project will not go ahead.

To win the project, Ohio offered Intel about $2 billion in incentives, including a 30-year tax break. Intel has outlined $150 million in educational funding aimed at growing the semiconductor industry regionally and nationally.

“If you travel 20 miles east of Columbus, Ohio, you’ll find 1,000 acres of empty land,” Biden said during his State of the Union address in March. “It won’t seem like much. But if you stop and look closely, you’ll see a field of dreams.”

At first glance, the factory’s future location seems far from anything, surrounded by farms, fields, and homes on multi-acre lots. In fact, it’s now part of the thriving city of New Albany – a land of good schools and big houses where white picket fences line the streets for miles. The city already has a large business park where 19,000 people work, as well as data centers from Amazon, Facebook and Google.

New Albany annexed the Intel property, but the biggest impact was on the people of nearby Johnstown, with a current population of 5,200. And few families have been as profoundly affected as Corsi and her relatives.

His son, Paul Corsi Jr., lived next door on 3 acres where he was raising two grandchildren. He is moving to 14 acres where he and his mother will live.

One of Tressie’s grandchildren, Tony Kelly, lives down the door on 14 wooded acres with a lake with his wife and 5- and 7-year-old daughters. He took approximately $1.7 million that was offered to him and bought 43 acres a few miles away.

Tony, 48, admits he was paid far more than his property was worth. But he also recounts the heart attack he suffered and his wife’s ulcer as they dealt with stress. And negotiations with the holding companies weren’t exactly an easy sell, with warnings of living in a “war zone” of trucks and construction if they didn’t cooperate.

“There’s not even a gauge that reads how bad this has been for us,” he said. “It’s been awful.”

The New Albany Company, a private real estate development firm that oversees offerings to homeowners, recognizes that change is difficult, said director of development Tom Rubey.

“Our goal as we worked to help put Ohio in the race for this transformative opportunity was to respect the owners and the disruptions they faced as a result of selling their properties,” he said in a statement.

New Albany Mayor Sloan Spalding understands the loss people are experiencing, especially those who leave their rural “forever homes” of decades or more. But Ohio, which has just lost another seat in Congress and has a static population, could be transformed by Intel, he said.

Even if the project appeals out of state, GOP Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted said, “Everyone who works at the plant will be an Ohioan.”

Watching the development unfold with mixed feelings is Tressie’s granddaughter, Tiffany Hollis, who lives in Johnstown, where she runs the Dashing Diner Uptown. Most days, she works alongside her mother and daughter, serving home-cooked meals, including Tressie’s recipes for gravy and fries.

Tiffany, 45, has spent many days at her grandmother’s property and proudly displays photos of herself, her daughter Allie and her daughter Amelia, all bathing in the same kitchen sink over the years.

Tiffany is torn apart by the project and its impact on her family, and fears her business will be overrun by chain restaurants. The family is not anti-Intel, they are quick to point out, saying they use Intel products and believe semiconductors should be made on American soil. From a business perspective, Intel is a huge opportunity.

“But when your heart is with a place – we don’t want that to happen,” she said. “As you want it to happen, but not in your backyard.”

At ground zero of the “Silicon Heartland”, the Corsi family has spent the last few weeks saying their goodbyes before Tressie’s final departure last week.

“This tree has been my neighbor for 50 years. So sad to see it no longer. Terrible,” she posted on Facebook as a farm’s century-old oak tree was cut down.

Tressie’s family removed a part of the wall in their home recording the height measurements of her great-grandson Luke. Tony used a forklift to remove a boulder at the end of the driveway where the grandchildren were running. Paul Jr. wrapped crime scene tape around an ornamental cherry tree that Paul Sr. gifted Tressie to protect her from construction. The wall, stone and tree section are all intended for Tressie’s new home.

Saving these artifacts provides some solace for Tressie. But they can’t replace the experience of sitting on her porch, sipping coffee in the morning while she watches hummingbirds at the feeder. In the last few days, Tressie knew she had to stop stuffing him.

“Because they’re going to depend on it,” she said. “And then when they depend on it, when I go, what are they going to do?”

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