EAST PROVIDENCE, R.I. — “Tell me what you need from me.”
Gina M. Raimondo, the current US commerce secretary and former Rhode Island governor, posed that challenge to a group of union members and elected officials on Monday. The response was immediate.
Michael F. Sabitoni, president of the Rhode Island Building and Construction Trades Council, said, “We want a (semiconductor) chip plant in Rhode Island.”
Raimondo said every state will get a shot at the $52 billion in grants and other incentives included in a newly passed $280 billion federal legislation package aimed at boosting the semiconductor industry, and she encouraged Rhode Island officials to make a pitch for one of 10 potential new plants.
Lieutenant Governor Sabina Matos, sitting in the front row, said she would call Governor Daniel J. McKee about taking advantage of the opportunity.
East Providence Mayor Bob DaSilva, who was also in the audience, suggested putting one of those plants in East Providence.
Monday evening’s event took place at the Plumbers and Pipefitters Local 51 hall in East Providence. And Raimondo, Rhode Island’s first female governor, spoke during an event focused on the Rhode Island Women’s Council of the Rhode Island Building and Trades Council.
Raimondo, who joined President Biden’s Cabinet last March after serving as governor for more than six years, said two “huge pieces of legislation” — the CHIPS and Science Act and the infrastructure bill — will provide a big boost to American manufacturing and the building trades.
“This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” Raimondo said. “We have one swing of the bat here to make these investments to create jobs in America that look like all of America.”
On Aug. 9, Biden signed the bipartisan CHIPS and Science Act, aiming to boost domestic high-tech manufacturing and compete with China.
Raimondo noted the bill includes $52 billion to stimulate US production of semiconductors, saying, “Here’s why that matters to you.” The federal government plans to incentivize up to 10 of those semiconductor chip plants, she said. Each one will be a “football-field sized” manufacturing facility, and each facility will require thousands of building trades workers, she said.
In total, the semiconductor chip plant projects across the US could support up to 100,000 jobs in the building trades, Raimondo said.
And, she said, “I am absolutely committed to making sure women get their fair share of those jobs. I am going to put every string attached to make sure we hit the goal of having one-third or one-half of those jobs going to women.”
Raimondo also noted that the $1 trillion infrastructure legislation, passed in November 2021, includes $65 billion for broadband access to improve internet services for rural areas, low-income families, and tribal communities.
The Commerce Department will be involved in the “internet for all” mission, aiming to install fiber cables all over the country, she said.
“We think we will create 150,000 jobs laying fiber,” Raimondo said, and she is committed to making sure those are union jobs. “You might say how do you know (they’ll be union jobs)?” she said. “Because I am implementing it, and I will make damn sure that is the way it’s going to be.”
As governor, she said she worked in initiatives to place women in welding jobs. “We will do the same with broadband and building semiconductor facilities,” she said.
Raimondo said she realizes there are factors that have prevented women from entering the building trades in the past, but she said they can be overcome. For example, a child care center might have to open at 6 a.m. to ensure that a woman can be on a job site by 7 a.m., she said.
Raimondo said she recently teased Lonnie Stephenson, international president of the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, about recruiting more women to the trade, saying, “You know, ‘brotherhood’ is in your name — maybe we should start there.”