They call it the trailer park.
When SanDisk founder Sanjay Mehrotra came out of his Silicon Valley retirement 14 months ago to take charge of Micron Technology Inc., Scott DeBoer made a point of showing Mehrotra the trailer park. More than 300 research engineers and other workers toil in the temporary buildings in a parking lot on Micron’s Federal Way campus.
“One of the first things I did was walk him out to those trailers and tell him we had to fix that,” said DeBoer, Micron’s executive vice president of technology development. “That’s not the kind of environment we want.”
Soon, the engineers will move from the bottom of Micron's Boise workplace heap to the top. Micron is spending $32 million to put up a three-story office building on the campus’s south end to house those 300 workers and 900 more.
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And it’s going up fast: Meridian’s Engineered Structures Inc. began construction in February, and DeBoer — who doubles as Micron’s Boise site manager, responsible for administering the company’s Treasure Valley locations — said the building should be ready for trailer tenants in December.
DeBoer said it will offer work areas befitting a 21st-century technology company.
“If you walk into one of our office areas now, it’s fairly typical of a company built over the last 20 years,” he said. “It’s an ocean of cubicles with offices around the outside.”
In the new building, named simply Building 37, some offices will be deep in the interior, and more natural light will reach cubicle workers, DeBoer said. The building will have open spaces and rooms designed for collaboration. And it will sport a two-story fitness center on the north side, open to all employees.
“When you’re trying to attract the best employees in the world here to this technology center, you have to have some amenities to compete,” he said. “It’s got to be a great place to work.”
It wasn’t long ago that Micron had too much space for its workers.
The company employed 12,000 people in Boise in the late 1990s, many of whom were blue-collar workers in wafer-fabrication units, known as fabs. But as those fabs aged and Micron began moving its manufacturing elsewhere, workers were laid off. After Micron ended chip-making in Boise nine years ago, fewer than 5,000 people worked for the company in the Treasure Valley.
Since then, Micron has converted the fab spaces to other uses. The company made the Federal Way campus its worldwide research and development center. Hundreds of highly paid engineers from around the world have replaced thousands of lower-paid fab workers in bunny suits.
Building 37 will house more than one of every six Boise-area Micron employees. The company has about 6,700 employees on its main campus, in leased office at the former Simplot Food Group headquarters a mile north on Federal Way, and in a warehouse/office building Micron owns in Meridian. With its new building, Micron hopes to consolidate and bring many of its off-campus workers home.
Last summer, Micron opened a new R&D fab that DeBoer said cost $350 million to build and equip, more than 10 times what the new office building costs.
“That fab is really the driver of a lot of the employees we’ve had to add,” DeBoer said. “As we keep building more infrastructure here for technology we’re developing, you have to have support people to run the equipment in there, to run experiments on that equipment, and to study the data that comes off it. That’s largely what the engineering staffs that we add here are doing.”
The research allows Micron to make increasingly advanced chips at its fabs in Lehi, Utah; Manassas, Virginia; and Japan, Singapore and Taiwan.
Micron expects the new office building to be full next spring. Micron will spend an additional $30 million or so upgrading other work spaces and recreational areas on campus. The company already is renovating the campus's two cafeterias and the entrance to its headquarters, Building 17.
“We don’t want any of our employees on the rest of the site to feel that their work environment for an extended period of time is significantly worse than the new area here,” DeBoer said.