Micron is waiting. Waiting for the price of computer memory chips to go up.
Waiting for the cost of production to go down.Waiting for a larger share of the market, which would give it more control over prices.
Waiting, perhaps, for the bankruptcies of Asian competitors.
It was an overabundance of competition that flooded the market and drove the price for DRAM computer memory chips from $60 to below two bucks after Micron began construction in Lehi in 1995. Those competitors are now losing money on every chip they produce - and so is Micron, which was in the red for the past fiscal quarter.
That plummeting price skidded the around-the-clock construction in Lehi to a halt.
"You're either in the best of times or the worst of times without much in between," Micron corporate affairs spokesman Stan Lockhart said Thursday as he led a tour from the Utah Manufacturers Association through the expansive, unfinished plant.
"We would have made more than $1 billion in one year if the price would have stayed where it as when we announced construction here in March of 1995," Lockhart said.
Micron is working in Lehi as it waits. The company had hopes of opening its product testing component this summer, aided by Micron's recent announcement it was acquiring Texas Instruments' memory division. Micron announced in July that plan had been postponed and that it was laying off about 150 contract employees.
Most of the other construction subcontractors are gone - fleeing the job site so fast after Micron announced in February 1996 it would mothball the plant that some buried materials on the grounds instead of packing them inside where pallets and boxes of unused materials occupy acres of the building complex.
Almost 200 Micron employees report for work at the unfinished plant, but the busiest sound in most of the 2.5-million-square-foot complex is the annoying buzz of industrial lights along the corridors of steel and concrete.
A big difference between Micron and its overseas competition is that Micron launched construction on the Lehi plant with money it had in the bank, spending $700 million on the plant so far.
Asian counterparts, on the other hand, borrowed heavily to get plants built and were forced to go into production - even if it meant selling their chips at a loss - to generate some cash flow to pay creditors, Lockhart said.
If the South Korean competition went bankrupt, for example, Micron could very likely put the remaining construction in Lehi back on the fast track and be in production in 18 months.
But a bankruptcy of that magnitude in South Korea would likely be a sign of serious financial instability in the South Korean government, which has close ties with the country's major business interests.
Political instability in South Korea is something the United States does not like to see. U.S. financial aid to Korea through the International Monetary Fund is likely, and would certainly put American tax dollars to work propping up Micron's competition, the company believes.
Micron has convinced Congress of the ill effects of such Korean aid. "But we haven't been able to convince the president," who has the Treasury Department on his side, Lockhart said.
So the company keeps churning out DRAM chips at its home plant in Boise and filing 100 new patent applications each month as it aggressively pursues new chip-making technology.
Micron will see the Lehi plant operational, Lockhart says with certainty. But when? "I honestly believe your guess is as good as mine on this issue."