Semitool’s legacy still looms large in the hallways of Applied Materials’ Flathead facility. From the framed Semitool posters hanging on the walls, to the name of the local branch – the “Semitool Business Unit” – executives here say the 2009 acquisition by Applied Materials has been beneficial to both companies.
“This group is recognized as a very innovative company, very hardworking,” Steve Eudy, director of engineering for the Semitool Business Unit of the Silicon Systems Group, told Gov. Brian Schweitzer during a visit last week. “You won’t hear any criticism inside of Applied of anyone at Semitool.”
Passing through the Flathead, Schweitzer donned a pair of goggles to tour the cavernous facility off of West Reserve Drive.
“It’s like a dang beehive in here,” Schweitzer said, looking around the brightly lit workspace, where some of the 700 workers employed by Applied Materials in the Flathead were assembling machines used to build the tiny semiconductors that go into portable communications gadgets.
Eudy pointed to the governor’s Apple iPhone, telling him, “A lot of that stuff gets made on our equipment.”
Beyond the assembly areas, developers and engineers sat at their desks in a more conventional office setting, though their computer monitors revealed the intricate networks of tiny circuits they were designing – which Schweitzer likened to “a bowl of noodles.”
Like Eudy, many of the employees present worked for Semitool before it was acquired by Applied Materials, which compounds concerns stemming from rumors floating through the valley that Applied could be considering shuttering its facilities in the Flathead and Libby, where an additional 30 people are employed and move them to California.
Eudy expressed skepticism about the rumors, noting several aspects of stability there that seem to belie any notion the facility would close. One example included a laboratory currently undergoing an expensive refurbishment.
“Applied doesn’t invest in a company they’re about to pull out of,” Eudy said.
He also noted the Silicon Systems unit does some $8 billion annually in sales, a sum that has increased since Semitool’s acquisition.
“It was a good success story,” Eudy added.
Comments from other Applied Materials executives only reinforced Eudy’s assertions, ascribing any rumors to anxiety stemming from an uncertain economy.
“We don’t have any plans to move Semitool operations to California,” Matt Ceniceros, a spokesman for Applied Materials, said. “Semitool’s killing it for us.”
“They’re a large part of why we’ve been very successful this last year,” Ceniceros added. “The technology that they produce is driving big inflections in the industry right now.”
Schweitzer, for his part, said he would do whatever possible to ensure Applied Materials remains in Northwest Montana.
“This is one of the anchor tenants of the job market in here in Flathead County,” Schweitzer said. “We want to make sure that these good jobs stay here in the Flathead Valley.”
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