‘Silicon Heartland’ is a boon for Ohio, but families mourn their homes


Tressie Corsi talks about giving up the home she’s owned in Johnstown, Ohio, since 1972 to make way for an Intel manufacturing plant during an interview Monday, June 20, 2022. Coris and her husband have raised four children and fostered several generations of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, some of whom lived next door. (AP Photo/Paul Vernon)


When President Joe Biden applauded Intel Corp. to build a $20 billion semiconductor operation on “1,000 acres of empty land” in Ohio, it didn’t sit well with Tressie Corsi.

The 85-year-old has lived on 7 acres of this 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, some of whom lived next door.

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

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

But money was never the issue, Corsi said.

“That 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 powering everything from phones to cars to home appliances. It is the largest economic development investment 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 superimposed on the state seal.

Construction of two factories, or fabs, is set to begin this year, with commissioning in late 2025. Total investment could top $100 billion over the decade, with six more factories to come. The project is expected to create 3,000 corporate jobs with an average salary of $135,000 and 7,000 construction jobs. Dozens of Intel suppliers will provide more jobs.

Donors are promoting both the economic development potential of the project and its national security benefits. The United States’ share of the global chipmaking market has fallen from 37% in 1990 to 12% today, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association, and shortages have become a potential risk.

Biden has pushed for passage of the federal CHIPS for America bill, currently stalled in Congress, which would provide billions for semiconductor research and production. “The scope and pace of our expansion into Ohio will be heavily dependent on CHIPS funding,” Intel spokeswoman Linda Qian said, though there’s no indication the project won’t go anywhere. the front.

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

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

At first glance, the future location of the factory seems far from everything, surrounded by farms, fields and houses on plots of several acres. In fact, it’s now part of booming New Albany – a tony 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 Amazon, Facebook and Google data centers.

New Albany annexed Intel property, but the greatest impact was on the residents of Johnstown, a current population of 5,200. And few families have been as deeply affected as Corsi and his loved ones.

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

One of Tressie’s grandsons, Tony Kelly, lives one door on 14 wooded acres with a pond with his wife and daughters aged 5 and 7. He took the approximately $1.7 million offered to him and purchased 43 acres a few miles away.

Tony, 48, admits he was paid way more than his property was worth. But he also recounts the heart attack he suffered and his wife’s ulcer as they coped with the stress. And negotiations with the holding companies weren’t exactly a soft 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 will say how bad it has been for us,” he said. “It was awful.”

The New Albany Company, a private property development company that has overseen landlord offerings, recognizes that change is difficult, said development manager Tom Rubey.

“Our goal as we worked to help put Ohio in the running for this transformational opportunity was to be respectful of homeowners and the disruption they faced as a result of the sale of their property,” he said. he said in a statement.

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

Even though the project attracts statists, GOP Lt. Governor Jon Husted said, “Everyone who works at the plant will be from Ohio.”

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

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

Tiffany is torn about the project and its impact on her extended family, and she fears her business will be taken over by restaurant chains. The family isn’t anti-Intel, she is 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 great opportunity.

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

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

“This tree has been my neighbor for 50 years. So sad to see he’s gone. Terrible,” she posted on Facebook when a century-old oak tree on a farm was felled.

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

Safeguarding these artifacts brings some consolation to Tressie. But they can’t replace the experience of sitting on her porch, sipping coffee in the morning while she watches the hummingbirds at the feeder. In the last few days, Tressie knew she had to stop filling it.

“Because they will depend on it,” she says. “And then when they depend on it, when I leave, what are they going to do?”

Lynn A. Saleh