No company keeps more people working in Oregon than Intel Corp. Its sprawling Hillsboro campus employs 17,500, with an annual payroll of $2.8 billion. A 2012 ECONorthwest study found that nearly one in six jobs in Washington County is tied to Intel.
No wonder political leaders hardly blinked this summer when they extended Intel's tax subsidies, worth $2 billion, over the next three decades.
Intel's dominant role here started when executives wanted to find a place outside of Silicon Valley where they could design what the company believed would be a revolution in computing.
The iAPX 432 wasn't just a set of faster chips. Intel believed the new processor architecture could put the functionality of a mainframe into a desktop computer. As Intel's project manager, Bill Lattin tells WW today, "It was a vision for a major breakthrough."
As first documented in 2003 by a Portland State doctoral student, Heike Mayer, Intel's employee surveys found many workers were concerned about livability in and around the company's headquarters in Santa Clara, Calif. Future Intel CEO Andrew Grove told Lattin to find a new city in which the iAPX 432 could call home.
Lattin and his family flew to visit his parents in Richland, Wash., for Christmas in 1976, and on the way home he stopped in Portland and toured Intel's Fab 4 site in Aloha.
Lattin saw some drawbacks. "The Portland area lacked a major university, which was a problem for engineers working on their master's and Ph.D.s," he says. "And there was an undercurrent of an anti-California attitude we had to overcome."
But the Aloha site met other criteria: The flight to the Bay Area didn't take much more than an hour, housing prices were relatively low, and it looked like a better place to raise families. Besides, Lattin thought, the move would put him closer to his relatives. "It all clicked," he says.
The iAPX 432 was a commercial failure. But more Intel design teams followed Lattin's lead to Oregon, and the company's Washington County site became a center of innovation. "That shifted a critical mass of the right people here," Lattin says. "That's when everything took off."
Lattin, 74, an investor who has served on several corporate boards, still lives in Portland. He recalls that there was no major announcement when his team came to Oregon in March 1977, but a year later Intel decided to expand to Hawthorn Farm in Hillsboro and held a big press event.
From the stage, Lattin watched local officials slapping each other on the back, believing they had scored big with Intel, but unaware of the scale of what was to come.