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OC Chipmakers See Modest Job Boost, With Eyes on China

Apple's Arrival In Irvine Adds Intrigue

Chipmakers Broadcom Inc., Tower Semiconductor Ltd. and Skyworks Solutions Inc. remain the largest names in Orange County’s vital semiconductor industry, while plenty of attention is being given to Apple Inc., China and the push for more U.S. production of the all-important tech components.

The three companies held the top spots, respectively, in the Business Journal’s ranking of semiconductor companies by local staff size, accounting for well more than half of the county’s semiconductor company employees.

Overall, the OC chip industry employment rose almost 1% as of this month from a year ago to 4,182, based on the 21 companies on the list.

Broadcom (Nasdaq: AVGO), headquartered in San Jose and with substantial operations in Irvine, topped the list with an estimated 1,300 OC employees, while Irvine’s Skyworks (Nasdaq: SWKS), led by CEO Liam Griffin, was No. 3 with 524.

Skyworks Solutions receives nearly 60% of its revenue from Apple, while Broadcom is also a key supplier to the Cupertino-based giant.

Apple (Nasdaq: AAPL) has been setting up a chip development hub in Orange County, with more than two dozen job openings for the Irvine outpost listed on the company’s website as of last week.

A Bloomberg News report earlier this month said Apple is planning to replace a key Broadcom chip with an in-house version.

Harsh Kumar, a stock analyst with Piper Sandler, told the Business Journal he has opened the year 2023 dealing with “weird rumors” about Apple and chipmakers.

“Skyworks supplies a vast variety of things to Apple,” he said on Jan. 12. “Broadcom and Skyworks charge a very fair price for the services that they provide to Apple and other people.”

He added: “I don’t see any fear in regards to Broadcom or Skyworks.”

Apple No. 13

Apple itself came in at No. 13 on the Business Journal list with an estimated 50 OC chip-related workers, not even a drop in the bucket compared to the company’s 164,000 worldwide headcount.

Chips—the colloquial name for semiconductor—are vital to everything from cars to phones, alarms and plenty of other detecting and regulating devices.

Local companies may well benefit from the push to boost U.S. chip production, including $52 billion in incentives signed into law by President Joe Biden last year.

In 2021, the average car contained about 1,200 chips worth $600, twice as many as in 2010, the Wall Street Journal said Jan. 14.

“Competition with China has stoked concerns that it could dominate key chip sectors, for either civilian or military uses, or even block U.S. access to components,” the Wall Street Journal added. “Only in the past two years has the U.S. fully grasped that semiconductors are now as central to modern economies as oil.”

The second largest OC chipmaker is Tower Semiconductor (Nasdaq: TSEM), with headquarters in Israel and 870 employees in Newport Beach.

Santa Clara-based Intel agreed to purchase Tower last year in a deal worth about $5.4 billion. A Tower spokesperson told the Business Journal the purchase is on track for closing around the originally scheduled time frame of mid-February.

“Upon the close of the transaction, Intel’s intent is for the two organizations to become a fully integrated foundry business. The company will share more details on integration plans at that time,” Intel said when the planned purchase was announced last February.

Santa Clara-based Marvell stayed at No. 4 on the list with 320 OC employees while Microchip Technology Inc. of Chandler, Ariz., was fifth with 198 local employees.

Indie, Irvine Upstarts

One of the biggest movers in headcount was automobile- and vehicle-focused Indie Semiconductor Inc., which increased its Orange County staff by 35% to 100 to come in at eighth place in the Business Journal rankings.

“Quite a change from the original four founders,” Paul Hollingworth, executive vice president for sales and marketing at the Aliso Viejo-based company (Nasdaq: INDI), told the Business Journal.

Indie semiconductor also announced in November its China subsidiary had received a $43 million investment from Chinese backers.

Irvine has a lively set of chip startups.

They include 5G-focused Movandi, with 50 employees in 13th place in a four-way tie on the Business Journal list, and Mobix Labs, checking in at No. 17 with a local headcount of 42. Syntiant Corp. was at No. 18 with 41 employees. New on the list this year is Irvine-based AONDevices, with 30 workers for 19th place (see story, page 6).

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Kevin Costelloe
Kevin Costelloe
Tech reporter at Orange County Business Journal
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