The global semiconductor shortage has already caused problems for automobile manufacturers, and U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, believes it could soon pose a threat to American jobs, national security and the economy.
Cornyn met with Central Texas semiconductor business representatives at the Samsung Austin Semiconductor facility on Monday to discuss the shortage and his CHIPS for America Act, which would appropriate $52 billion in federal incentives for semiconductor manufacturers. It recently passed the Senate with bipartisan support and is headed to the House, where the same outcome is expected.
"I can't think of any part of our life that hasn't become better, more productive, because of the growth of semiconductors," Cornyn said live at the round table event. "Everything from your cell phone to your car to you-name-it. Everything's sort of like a computer on wheels these days."
U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, met with Central Texas semiconductor manufacturers on Monday to discuss his CHIPS act, which would appropriate more than $50 billion in federal incentives to help address a global chip shortage and better position the U.S. relative to China. (John Cornyn/Facebook)
Samsung is considering building a $17 billion chip plant in Austin as soon as this year. The company purchased roughly 258 acres of land in Northeast Austin last October, near its existing chip manufacturing plan, and Austin City Council approved a rezoning request from the company to allow for industrial use on the site in December.
Cornyn said Samsung and other companies won't build such plants without the funding and tax credits accounted for in the bill. "China's building 17 semiconductor facilities as we speak. The United States is seeing one built in Arizona right now by Taiwan Semiconductor," he said. "So we need to think differently about how we encourage manufacturing of this vital component of our daily life here in America."
Without such plants, the U.S. won't be able to compete with China and limit its reliance on imports. "If for some reason our access to the semiconductors made in Asia were cut off … as a result of a conflict or some kind of pandemic or a natural disaster, it would have dramatically bad consequences on the United States," he said, citing virtual learning, telemedicine, car manufacturing and national security as at-risk.
Semiconductor manufacturers were among some of the first tech companies to base themselves in Austin. Now companies such as Advanced Micro Devices, Dell, NXP Semiconductors and Samsung are among the metro's largest employers. Representatives from those companies, along with BAE Systems and Infineon, joined Cornyn Monday.
The U.S. is already feeling the effects of the global shortage, which is the result of myriad factors, including increasing demand as workers and students went remote; supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic and worsened by the winter storm; and industry consolidation. GM temporarily shut down some of its assembly plants, including one in Michigan, as a result of the shortage, and Apple CEO Tim Cook noted challenges getting ahold of chips during the company's Q2 earnings call, according to the Verge.
The CHIPS act would not only help prevent shortage-induced manufacturing plant closures in the U.S. but also, ideally, bring manufacturing jobs back from overseas. Cornyn attempted to strip the bill of an amendment that would require a prevailing wage for semiconductor manufacturers in the U.S., which he argued would jeopardize Republican support for the bipartisan bill, but the Senate voted 58-42 to keep it.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, was among the supporters. "As we invest tens of billions of dollars into critical industries through large, publicly traded companies, it is only right that we require that those funds also invest in the men and women who build and maintain these cutting-edge facilities," he said in a June 8 statement.
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Austin's Delta 8 industry has been turned on its head after Texas health officials clarified that the cannabinoid is on the state list of illegal substances, though it was previously believed to be legal by most retailers, consumers and manufacturers.
House Bill 1325, which was signed in June 2019 by Gov. Greg Abbott, and the Farm Bill, signed into law by former President Donald Trump in 2018, legalized any hemp product containing less than .3% THC. The same bills were thought to have made Delta 8 legal, though the Texas Department of State Health Services added a notice on its website saying it was still a controlled substance as of Friday, Oct. 15.
Both the federal and state governments keep separate lists on what is considered a controlled substance. Marijuana is considered Schedule I, a category reserved for substances with "no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse," both statewide and federally.
Austin-based CBD retailer Grassroots Harvest CEO Kemal Whyte, like many CBD shop retailers, was blindsided by the announcement. Many small businesses rely on Delta 8 for their sales—Green Herbal Care CBD said about 90% of its sales come from Delta 8—and Whyte said he is frustrated by the inconsistencies in the drug scheduling system.
Since 87% of Texans support the legalization of marijuana, at least for medical use, per a recent poll, Whyte said he wonders who this legislation is for.
"It's gonna have a massive impact on small businesses—there's just no way around it," Whyte said. "The reality is, we don't want to push out anything bad for our customers, we want this to benefit our customers and to help them. If we can make money while doing it, that's the American dream. What are we doing, whose benefit is this for?"
Delta 8 surged in popularity after the perceived legalization—consumers enjoyed its lower psychotropic potency, decreased anxiety while using it and the peace of mind as a legal way to get high. So in order to protect their products and livelihoods, both Grassroots Harvest and Austin-based manufacturer Hometown Heroes are taking legal action.
Whyte said Grassroots Harvest is suing DSHS, saying their action is creating negative effects in the market. Meanwhile, a Hometown Heroes spokesperson said the company is in the process of filing a temporary restraining order that would pause the ban on Delta-8 in the state of Texas.
Threats against Delta 8 are not new—DSHS lost a lawsuit trying to make "smokable hemp products" illegal last year and Texas lawmakers had been considering a bill that would make Delta 8 illegal, though it was dropped after the clarification was made.
Hometown Heroes released a formal statement in response to the DSHS rule.
"I need to be clear—we love Texas, we're just choosing to fight for the will of the people in regards to cannabis in Texas," Hometown Hero CEO Lukas Gilkey said in a statement. "(Texas DSHS) are using backhanded ways to create legislation and go against the will of the people."
Whyte laments the fact that it would be easier legally to "open up a strip club that also sells guns," and said he can't post customer testimonials that mention the benefits of Delta 8 without getting hit with a cease and desist from the Food and Drug Administration. Whyte said he isn't opposed to regulation—far from it—he just wants to see it go through the correct channels.
"The fact that they're stunting our ability to communicate with our clients that want to learn about this, you're preventing us from communicating with them and teaching them, or spreading information that we know," Whyte said. "I think that that in and of itself opens up a lot of questions."
Grassroots Harvest still has Delta 8 products on its shelves for the time being but for how long, Whyte doesn't know.
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Austin Public Health and other clinics around Austin are now providing booster shots for all three vaccines, including Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson, to fully vaccinated individuals after both Pfizer and J & J were approved by the CDC on Wednesday.
APH and Austin clinics, which were already administering the approved Pfizer booster, will begin distributing shots as soon as Friday.
Those who received the second dose of the Pfizer and Moderna vaccine more than six months ago are elligble to receive a booster if they are over 65 or if they are over 18 and:
- Live in a long-term care environment
- Have underlying medical conditions
- Work or live in high-risk settings, such as schools, hospitals or correctional facilities
Austin-Travis County Health Authority Dr. Desmar Walkes said in a media Q&A Friday that APH is encouraging boosters just as much as they have urged residents to get their first and second doses.
"Boosters are incredibly important to keeping our community protected and hospitalizations low," Walkes said. "If we can stay on top of our vaccinations, we provide protections for our most vulnerable and make it that much harder for COVID to spread in our community."
Eligible residents are free to choose the same booster as their first doses or "mix and match," per the CDC announcement.
Those looking for another dose can simply bring their vaccination card to APH centers or the dozens of Walgreens and CVS locations in the metro, which began administering doses Friday.
Additional updated guidance from the CDC allows for all eligible individuals to choose which vaccine they receive as a "mix-and-match" booster dose. It is advised to remember to bring your CDC COVID-19 Vaccination Card showing the original doses with you when going for booster shots.
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