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December 17, 2008 - by Marvin Kusmierz

Welcome to "The Great Lakes Bay Region," of Michigan.

Not familiar with “The Great Lakes Bay Region?” That's to be expected as it's a new economic moniker intended to unify what the area of Michigan that has been referred to as the the “Saginaw Valley,” “Tri-Counties,” Tri-Cities,” “Mid-Michigan,” “Saginaw Bay,”and other names over the years.

The significance of a new name is to better describe this economic area of Michigan to the rest of the world, as more people and businesses are familiar with the Great Lakes than the Saginaw Valley for example.

It's clearly the result of the headquarters of two world-class businesses, Dow Chemical and Dow Corning, being located here. Both companies are booming high tech industrial businesses, making source materials essential to the production of most every semiconductor product used in making digital devices for computers, TVs, phones, watches, calculators, and thousands of other products we depend on everyday.

The "big news" in The Great Lakes Bay Region are the billions of dollars being invested by these companies in expanding their manufacturing capcity for producing polycrystalline silicon material required by the hot growth of the solar cell industry. The vast majority of these huge investments are being made at their Hemlock Semiconductor facilities located in Saginaw County. Hemlock Semiconductor supplies nearly 75% of the world's polycrystalline silicon used in manufacturing solar cells, which is also used in manufacturing semiconductor devices that power our modern electronic products, as reference above.

Polycrystalliine Silicon

It cannot be overstated the significance these companies represent in the world of electronics, not only in the production of polycrystalline silicon, but also in the production of chemicals on which all semiconductor manufacturing processes depend on.

Such important source materials are not exclusive to the Great Lakes Bay Region, but this area it is by far, the single largest concentration for production of these critical materials.

A fact that lead to Hemlock Semiconductor to announce an investment of $1.2 billion in a new facilities to be located in Tennessee. A strategic decision to protect it's business from a catastrophe if one were to occur at its only production facitlies in Saginaw County. Any shut down of its production would have a major rippling affect not only on the solar cell industry, but throughout the electronics industry as well.

The new Tennesee plant will does not detract nor dimenish the fact that the existing facilites in our region will grow in increasing importance as in keeping with the growth of the solar power industry. which is expected to grow from its present value of $20 billion to $90,000 by 2010.

What all this means to the future of The Great Lakes Bay Region, may be difficult the people living here to grasp. We're kind of in the same situation our ancestors had to deal when the automobile made its entry as the replacement for a horse and buggy. It wasn't understood very what good would be derived from a noisy and unreliable motor-carriage, which wreaked havoc in startling their horse whenever one came in site. In a little over a decade, motor companies couldn't built them fast enough to keep up with consumer demand, and the auto industry was born.

The majority of people, for sure the citizens of Michigan, know much about what's required to make a car. In the coming decade they will become aware of what is required to make polycrystalline silicon used to make the electronic products they already depend on each day.

Graphite Products

The Great Lakes Bay Region has been a significant supplier to the semiconductor industry since the early 1960s, not only for polycrystalline materials, but for high purity graphite products as well. Carbone of America's Ultra Carbon Division in Bay City, was one of the first suppliers of high-purity graphite furnace electrodes used the Hemlock Semiconductor process for making the polycrystalline silicon. Carbone has production facilities in Bay City and Midland.

Both of these companies are unique high tech operations, that have quietly been improving and growing their production processes for over 50 years. The public's awareness of what they do in specific terms will need to increase to support their continued continue growth in this area. Their high tech processes require well educated workers in the knowledge of chemical and high temperature processes, precision manufacturing, and quality assurance.

It is "our challenge" to develop the knowledge and means to become active participants in assuring these opportunities for growth are retained in The Great Lake Bay Region for present and future generations.

More specific information about the history of these companies who were born in the old "Saginaw Valley" days can be read in an article I published on June 15, 2004, entitled "Semiconductors and the Saginaw Valley."

Related resources:
  • {History of United Carbon Products} - Now, Carbone of America, Ultra Carbon Div.

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