A Little French National Pride
It was hard for us to maintain our objectivity while doing this article. Seeing a French semiconductor plant that not only has phenomenal future potential, but also expertise that makes it almost impossible to relocate offshore ignited our enthusiasm. We often write about GlobalFoundries, Intel, Foxconn, or TSMC; but for once, we can talk about our own STMicroelectronics Rennes—a site that excels in a rapidly expanding niche market.
We might be criticized for showing such national pride, but maybe we can be forgiven since the French site’s success stems from its having adapted to the constraints of globalization. Obviously, the site no longer resembles what it was before the 2000s, but the fact is that no semiconductor fab looks like what it did 10 years ago. The realities of the market are cruel and impartial. Its axioms are profitability and productivity, and they hold sway without discrimination or considerations of a moral and social nature. The idea that a small European front end can and must rival the Asian fabs that have been built in the past 10 years is ridiculous and dangerous.
Instead of doing what it did in the past or closing its doors completely, the Rennes site invested in what made it unique. We can’t talk about this issue without citing the paper on modern economic theory by Karla Hoff and Joseph Stiglitz, published by the World Bank, which shows that the developed countries will remain competitive by accumulating highly skilled labor. They can no longer compete with the developing countries, where the low cost of living makes very low average wages possible. The only solution for the developed countries is to have ultraspecialized labor and expertise that can’t be found anywhere else. That’s exactly what accounts for the success of the Rennes site, and there’s good reason to be proud of it.