Micron Technology wants Congress to steer International Monetary Fund dollars away from South Korean semiconductor companies it believes are flooding U.S. markets with low-priced computer chips.
And with the help of Idaho and Utah senators, including Bob Bennett, R-Utah, the Boise-based company might gets it way. A bill the Senate approved this past week appropriating $18 billion to buoy the Asian economy excludes assistance for the semiconductor industry. A House version of the IMF package isn't expected until after the April recess."It has been an uphill battle," said Amy Kliener, Micron government relations director. The Department of the Treasury, she said, resisted restrictions on how the money is used.
Bennett inserted language into the legislation that says a healthy U.S.-based semiconductor industry is vital to national security, and that U.S. policy should ensure resources aren't used to promote unfair competition.
Micron CEO Steve Appleton has been on a crusade to see that Asian chipmakers aren't rewarded for bad business practices. He told the House Banking and Financial Services Committee last month that any aid directed at South Korea should include strict conditions.
Appleton said Micron, the only U.S. producer of Dynamic Random Access Memory chips, can compete with South Korean manufacturers on a fair basis. "But we cannot compete with a Korean industry that is braced by IMF funding, Korean government funding and by U.S. tax dollars funneled through international institutions."
Micron has long complained about Korean companies "dumping" computer chips into the U.S. market. Appleton said it contributed to the demise of nine American DRAM producers and threatens Micron. The chips are used in everything from blow dryers to satellites.
"We think that has prevented us from hiring 4,000 workers at the Lehi facility," said Julie Nash, Micron spokeswoman.
Prices for Micron's primary product, the 16-meg DRAM chip, have dropped from $60 in December 1995 to about $2.50 today, Nash said. Micron lost $48 million for its second fiscal quarter ended Feb. 26.
The $2.5 million Lehi plant won't produce chips until market conditions improve dramatically.
"To add capacity now we feel would be irresponsible," Nash said. Micron, however, intends to hire a few hundred workers to test computer chips in Lehi this summer.
Nash complained that while Micron holds back on production, Korean firms have no compunction about expanding while going deeper into debt.
Samsung recently completed a plant in Austin, Texas, and Hyundai is working on one in Eugene, Ore.