Nearshore Americas

Intel is Unusually Vague About a $1.2 Billion “Investment” in Costa Rica

A month removed from the announcement of a billion dollar investment in Costa Rica, Intel has yet to provide even the slightest detail on what the money will be used for.

On August 30, Intel announced that it would invest $US1.2 billion in Costa Rica throughout a two-year period. Intel broke the news barely a day after a meeting between Costa Rican president Rodrigo Chaves and US president Joe Biden in Washington, signaling high expectations from the company for what promises to be Costa Rica’s further incorporation into the North American semiconductors supply chain.

Although the investment represents a considerable commitment, the company’s press release makes no mention of new facilities, an expansion of current ones or plans to increase its local headcount. It only states that the US$1.2 billion will be used to “enable new technologies” and to allow Intel to “continue being a key player in the growing global demand for semiconductors”.

NSAM reached out to Intel’s international and regional communications teams. Neither was able to provide further information into what the US$1.2 billion would be used for, stating that it corresponded to the budget of the company’s Costa Rican operations for the next two years.

“The US$1.2 billion investment corresponds to the budget allocated to a greater part of our operations in the country [Costa Rica]. This will allow us to maintain the highest standards for the development of cutting edge products that will make it to market in the following years,” stated the team in charge of Intel’s communications in Costa Rica.

The communications team underscored that there are “no announcements in regards to hirings” and that the investment “won’t translate into an expansion, but Intel is constantly evaluating its operations all over the world to guarantee an adequate capacity to satisfy global demand.”

When pressed for information on how the budget for the following two years compares with the one for the two years prior, the communications representatives stated that Intel “will not get into further detail”. 

Intel has no record in its public financial statements of how much money it allocates to its Costa Rican operations. The closest to a record of its budget for specific geographies are investment announcements. 

According to CINDE –Costa Rica´s investment promotion agency–, Intel announced a US$350 million investment in the country for the 2021-2023 period. Seven months later, it was reported that the planned investment for the period had increased to US$600 million. Over the past couple years, Intel has announced major investments in Poland (US$4.6 billion), Germany (US$33 billion) and the US (US$43.5 billion across Arizona, Ohio and New Mexico), all of them related to plans to strengthen the global semiconductors supply chain. For each of those, at least a mention was made of new facilities or an increase in staff.

Intel has been operating in Costa Rica for 26 years, becoming an important source of investment and employment for the Central American country. It has a major site in the city of Heredia, barely a 40-minute drive from the country’s capital city (San Jose). The site includes assembly and testing facilities, an R&D center and an office for global services delivery. 

Intel claims to have over 3,000 collaborators in Costa Rica, generating “opportunities for nearly 5,000 contractors”. In spite of making no announcement for an expansion in its staff, the company has several IT-related job openings in the country, including positions for software developers, cloud engineers, data analysts and DevOps engineers. Some of these positions are aimed at “student-workers”, including an opening for high school interns in assembly and operations test projects.

A Promise of Major Transformation

Intel’s US$1.2 billion investment heralds a major impact for Costa Rica’s manufacturing and tech sectors. President Chaves met US President Biden in the White House just a day before the announcement, discussing plans to turn Costa Rica into a regional node for the supply of semiconductors. That meeting was explicitly mentioned in Intel’s press release.

In mid-July, the US State Department announced a partnership with the government of Costa Rica to “explore opportunities” to diversify the semiconductors supply chain, an objective which falls under the CHIPS Act of 2022.  

The CHIPS Act provides the State Department with a US$500 million fund (known as ITSI) for “coordinating with foreign government partners to support international ICT security and semiconductor supply chain activities”. 

The coordinating activities include: the securing of raw materials, identifying workforce and infrastructure needs, developing “complementary approaches” to industry incentives and coordinating policies to shield operations from security risks.

Waves in the Services Sector?

It is likely that the US$1.2 billion commitment will have a major impact on tech manufacturing, but there are mixed perceptions on whether the investment will have an effect on IT services. 

Some of the market sources consulted by NSAM expect little to no impact in Costa Rica’s IT services sector, while others see the wave of investment having an indirect though significant effect on the national tech ecosystem. 

Mario Chaves –President of Encora in the Americas– applauded the announcement, mentioning that a wave of incentives and attention could push Costa Rica’s overall tech sector (hardware and software) forward. Yet he doubts that IT service providers will see those benefits. 

“That will have direct benefits for everyone [in Costa Rica], but not so much for the services sector,” Chaves commented. “The skills required by Intel for this new project don’t match the ones needed in our industry.”

“There could be a negative effect in the short term if demand for talent increases suddenly, leading to engineers and technicians asking for higher pay because of Intel’s salary benchmarks. That would be temporary, though,” he added.

“That will have direct benefits for everyone [in Costa Rica], but not so much for the services sector”—Mario Chaves, President of Encora in the Americas

Marcos Santos, CEO in the Americas for GFT Group, sees Intel’s investment as a catalyst for the local tech sector. 

“Intel’s investment will trigger a chain reaction of recurring investments into local IT businesses to support the company’s new manufacturing and production needs,” Santos said. “There will be an ongoing need for more talent to support the new Assembly and Test plant and Intel’s larger semiconductor production needs, resulting in increased IT job opportunities for the local Costa Rican market.”

The interest in Costa Rica’s potential for semiconductors mirrors that of Mexico. Mexican and US authorities have spent the past couple of years aiming to incorporate Mexico into the regional semiconductors supply chain. 

The project is already making waves in several Mexican states, attracting interest from foreign tech vendors and pushing local authorities to redesign whole segments of their economies. Jalisco’s government launched the Jalisco Tech Hub Act, which will begin implementation this year.

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Based on the information provided by Intel through its press release and the answers to our queries, it seems that the US$1.2 billion investment, as big as it is, won’t change much of the company’s current operations in Costa Rica. For all the optimism that surrounds it, the announcement comes off more as a statement of trust and commitment to the country than a transformative project.

The US’ plans to incorporate several Latin American countries into the semiconductors supply chain has been talked-up by businessmen and politicians as a potentially transformative moment for developing economies in the region, which have struggled historically to catch up to the technological leaps of global titans. It remains to be seen whether that promise will be achieved and to what extent. 

Cesar Cantu

Cesar is the Managing Editor of Nearshore Americas. He's a journalist based in Mexico City, with experience covering foreign trade policy, agribusiness and the food industry in Mexico and Latin America.

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