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Thursday, Feb 29, 2024

Apple Boosts OC Chipmaking Base

Apple Inc.’s reported move into chipmaking has quickly made it one of Orange County’s largest employers in the vital local tech sector.

The Cupertino-based tech giant (Nasdaq: AAPL) is now estimated to have roughly 200 chipmaking employees in Orange County, up from roughly 50 a year earlier, according to this week’s Business Journal list.

That estimate, which places Apple at the No. 5 spot on the list, is based on ongoing national industry reports that the company is looking to ramp up a new wireless unit in Irvine, continued job postings for local positions, and news, first reported by the Business Journal, of the company’s expanding real estate presence in the area.

Apple said in July it had added 55,667 square feet of space at the Spectrum Terrace office campus to the 115,290 square feet it moved into a little more than a year ago.

Apple, which has a market cap of $2.8 trillion, just behind the world’s most valuable publicly traded company Microsoft Corp., now occupies a building and a half at the recently built office park, developed by Irvine Co.

As of last week, Apple was advertising for more than 70 jobs in Irvine. They include positions for the RFIC division, or radio frequency integrated circuit, which is a chip commonly used in cellphones to transmit and receive radio waves.

Industry watchers have long speculated that Apple would bring chipmaking in-house to lessen its dependence on suppliers such as Irvine-based Skyworks Solutions Inc. (Nasdaq: SWKS), Irvine-founded Broadcom Inc. (Nasdaq: AVGO) and San Diego’s most valuable public company, Qualcomm Inc. (Nasdaq: QCOM).

No. 1 Broadcom

This year’s list of the biggest chip companies in OC shows San Jose-based Broadcom Inc. (Nasdaq: AVGO) in its customary No. 1 position in the Business Journal rankings with 1,300 local workers.

Broadcom, co-founded by OC philanthropist and entrepreneur Henry Samueli, is a longtime chip supplier to Apple. Apple last year struck a multibillion-dollar deal with Broadcom to use more U.S.-made parts for 5G devices.

Broadcom’s had a banner year, with its stock now near an all-time high and a valuation near $520 billion.

Avago Technologies acquired Broadcom Corp. in 2016 and adopted the name Broadcom Limited.

Chairman Samueli’s 2.1% stake in the company is currently valued at around $10.8 billion.
Israel-based Tower Semiconductor Ltd. in Newport Beach dipped slightly to 860 OC employees for the No. 2 spot on the Business Journal’s list of largest chipmakers in Orange County by headcount.

Broadcom, Tower and No. 3 Skyworks Solutions accounted for more than half of the 4,064 people employed by the 17 top OC semiconductor companies surveyed by the Business Journal. The total grew by 3.4% over the past year.

Skyworks’ Focus

Skyworks Solutions, led by CEO Liam Griffin, is looking to increase its automotive market and other sectors for its chips, as the company has been getting about two-thirds of its revenue from tech giant Apple.

“Skyworks was much in vogue during the 2021 bull market. Shares traded at over $190 in the middle of that year,” said website Investor Place on Jan. 8. The price had sunk to $102 as of last week.

“The highs were marked by public statements that Skyworks was going beyond Apple. You still see such stories, but analysts no longer pay attention to them,” according to the website.

Skyworks bought a unit of Silicon Laboratories in 2021, hoping that chips for autos, smart homes and other uses­ would reduce its Apple dependence.

Skyworks is expected to release quarterly earnings early next month and may provide clues as to its future dealings with Apple.

Aliso Viejo-based Indie Semiconductor Inc. (Nasdaq: INDI), which is supplying chips for automotive uses and counts a valuation topping $1 billion, holds the No. 9 spot on the Business Journal list as its local workforce stayed steady at 100.


Some other key companies in the rankings include the following Irvine-based firms:

• Mobix Labs, a 5G company that recently went public (Nasdaq: MOBX), jumped from 42 employees to 60 today to rise to No. 10. CEO Fabian Battaglia told the Business Journal: “Headcount growth is primarily attributable to the successful acquisition of EMI Solutions [based in Irvine] that aligns with our commitment to an active, accretive M&A strategy, which augments the development of our in-house next-generation wireless products.”

• No. 12 Movandi, involved in key aspects of 5G technology, and which has raised over $110 million in funds to date, held steady with 50 employees.

• Menlo Microsystems Inc., a maker of tiny electric switches that raised $150 million in a 2022 Series C funding, decided last year to build a new chipmaking plant in upstate New York. Its headquarters will remain in Irvine; it ranks No. 14 on the list with 40 local workers.

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