Published On: Fri, Apr 29th, 2022

Keeping Austin connected (for high-tech manufacturing)

Motorola’s Fort Worth, Texas public plant lasted roughly accurately a year. The summary from a Google-owned smartphone code was simple: The whole practice had proven too difficult. “What we found was that a North American marketplace was unusually tough,” Rick Osterloh settled simply during a time.

The essay was already on a wall when a news was announced in May 2014. Two months prior, Google concluded to sell a code to Lenovo for a fragment of what it paid 3 years prior. The plant had also begun draining staff, down from thousands to a high triple digits before a closure was strictly announced.

It positively wasn’t for miss of ambition. The ability to tag a phones “assembled in a U.S.” was a difficulty where “Designed in California” is about as tighten as anyone’s come in new decades. The Moto Maker customized tone scheme, meanwhile, had Samsung’s stream pull for a “bespoke” all kick by roughly a decade. Ultimately, however, a sales weren’t there.

And while Motorola’s CEO Dennis Woodside enthusiastically explained, “it’s a parable that we can’t pierce prolongation here since it’s too expensive,” it fast became transparent that a company’s ambitions didn’t line adult with consumer interest.


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Motorola’s Texas roots run deep. Three hours divided and 40 years prior, a association planted a dwindle in Austin when a state capital’s metro area race hovered circuitously 300,000 — around 15% of where it stands in 2022. But a seeds of a tech stage had been planted a late-60s with IBM, as Motorola assimilated a category that enclosed names like Texas Instruments. In a 90s, Motorola began prolongation semi-conductors in Austin, investing some-more than $1 billion in 5 plants and employing thousands of workers.

By a spin of a millennium, growth had scaled behind or stopped in several locales, culminating with a spinoff of a semiconductor multiplication and a successive origination of Freescale. Plants were sealed underneath a new indication and Freescale restructured, a shade of a former self that joined into a Dutch firm, NXP.

Much of Motorola’s Austin bureau space has remained unoccupied for a early 21st century. Though approvals by a City Council during a pestilence have set a wheels in suit to redevelop a space for new occupants. Rebranded Tech 3443 (a curtsy to a Motorola campus’ address, 3443 Ed Bluestein Blvd.), a growth envisions itself catering to today’s Austin tech scene. Rather than catering to a monoliths of a past, a owners devise to lease it out to a some-more opposite array of mostly smaller clients.

The giants still dawn in a Texas capital, however. Apple arrived in Austin in a early 90s, only as Motorola was ramping adult a internal chip fabrication. The dual companies’ particular fortunes were, of course, dramatically opposite during that era. The 90s found Apple between Steve Jobs stints and attempting to fight flourishing Windows prevalence with Macintosh clones and a Newton. In 2014, only as Motorola was shutting down a Maker plants, Apple began prolongation of a Mac Pro in Austin. It was, perhaps, a arrange of large sheet object it done some-more mercantile clarity to make domestically.

While that iteration of a Mac Pro itself eventually petered out, a association again announced in 2019 that long-awaited reboot of a product would be done in a same Austin facility.

“The Mac Pro is Apple’s many absolute mechanism ever and we’re unapproachable to be building it in Austin. We appreciate a administration for their support enabling this opportunity,” Tim Cook pronounced during a time. “We trust deeply in a energy of American innovation. That’s because each Apple product is designed and engineered in a U.S., and done adult of collection from 36 states, ancillary 450,000 jobs with U.S. suppliers, and we’re going to continue flourishing here.”

With nonetheless another redesign of a Pro approaching for after this year, it’s misleading either a association once again will furnish a product in Austin. The company’s participation in a city stays strong, however. It pennyless belligerent on a new, 133-acre campus in 2019, with space for around 5,000 employees. Plans to indeed get those butts in seats, however, were roughly positively behind by a ongoing pandemic.

The association also offers other, reduction conventional, operations in a city, including Daisy, a iPhone disassembly robot. The system, that lives in a room in a region, is partial of Apple’s incomparable sustainability push, stripping a phones down to repurpose components.

Look many companies, Apple’s domestic prolongation operations continue to be sincerely modest. There’s expected some-more shake room in a margins for a smaller-scale, higher-cost and physically incomparable product like a Mac Pro contra a handset. Conventional knowledge understandably still binds that a economics are simply too formidable to impulse when it comes to onshoring mass prolongation manufacturing.

Discussions around offshoring have essentially revolved around questions of employment. Understandably so, when we hear about a 34% net pursuit detriment a zone has gifted over a past 40 years. Employee training programs — like a one recently announced by Apple — can hopefully go a ways toward assisting pierce workers into other (hopefully higher-paying) roles. Though this is a formidable review we need to sojourn intent with, generally as augmenting automation continues to make opposite positions obsolete. One can disagree (as people do) that robots and automation don’t reinstate “quality” jobs currently, though even if one were to straightforwardly accept that premise, a mislaid pursuit is a mislaid pursuit — even if it’s not a “good” one.

Meanwhile, we have been conference an enlargement in a review around domestic manufacturing. In offer to continued concerns around pursuit offshoring, a pandemic-fueled supply sequence and chip predicament have spurred on conversations around augmenting domestic member production. One need demeanour no offer than aerial photos of unsold cars backing racetracks in Michigan, watchful for any of a augmenting series of semiconductors in today’s autos.

The highest-profile instance of this is Intel’s $20 billion investment in a span of chip prolongation comforts outward of Columbus, Ohio. Closer to home, Samsung is carrying a possess $17 billion moment. In 2019, a world’s largest phone builder (the U.S.’s second largest) laid off 290 workers as it close down an Austin RD facility. The association has, however, reliable around 3,000 jobs in a circuitously chip phony facility.

Late final year, Samsung reliable reports of offer expansion, this time in Taylor, Texas — about 30 miles outward of Austin. The association expects to pierce a plcae online in 2024, formulating an additional 2,000 jobs for a area.

“As we supplement a new trickery in Taylor, Samsung is laying a grounds for another critical section in a future,” Samsung’s Kinam Kim pronounced in a release. “With larger prolongation capacity, we will be means to improved offer a needs of a business and minister to a fortitude of a tellurian semiconductor supply chain.”

As with Intel’s announcement, a plant expected won’t arrive in time to residence a stream chip shortage, though most as experts design additional pandemics during a lifetime, another supply sequence predicament is all though guaranteed. Those issues, joined with stretched unfamiliar family and confidence concerns, all indicate to augmenting seductiveness in domestic manufacturing. We have a motivation, and as automation and technologies like addition prolongation continue to advance, we positively have a tools.

Even with these advances, economics stays a vital jump that seems expected to banish domestic product as a smaller square of a altogether prolongation puzzles in annoy of a security, accessibility and good PR that come with building here. But hey, in a universe where Motorola only cumulative a No. 3 mark in a U.S. smartphone marketplace next Apple and Samsung, maybe anything is possible.

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