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Semiconductors just one path to Wales’ prosperity

04 Jul 2019

It was a pleasure to meet Robert Wood ‘Woody’ Johnson, the United States of America’s Ambassador to the UK at the Cardiff Business Club Summer lunch last week.

Following his interesting and upbeat address, I managed to pose a question during the Question and Answer session. I was able to highlight a recent MIT (Massachusetts Institute of Technology) report which identified Wales as being a world leader in online insurance and particularly in InsureTech, which is a well identified subsidiary of the FinTech industry.

The report also identified Wales as being prominent in the field of compound semi- conductors. 

The FinTech sector in Wales is worth an estimated £8.2bn to the Welsh economy, employing some 44,000 people within a Wales-based eco system that supports and attracts start-ups, scale-ups and large enterprises. South Wales is an InsureTech hub and of course, businesses like; and are prominent in this arena.

And so, in my view, Wales needs to capitalise on this sector and ensure that we drive growth, opportunity and jobs to contribute even more to the Wales economy. This is an aspiration which is mirrored in our compound semi-conductor cluster, which is the first of its kind in the world and is based in South Wales. 

At the recent Cardiff Capital Region launch of the Investment Fund at Cardiff Business School, I was, as always, hugely impressed by the contribution that Dr Drew Nelson from IQE made when discussing the massive success of compound semiconductors and the enormous potential that this global opportunity presents to the Wales economy. 

Silicon has been the mainstay semiconductor for the last 50 years - everyone has heard of silicon chips. They have been responsible for over 50% of GDP in all advanced economies over the last 50 years, so are critical to economic growth. However, Silicon is now running out of steam and a new family of more powerful semiconductors are taking over from silicon. These are called Compound Semiconductors. The world’s first end to end cluster for Compound Semiconductors established in South Wales, consists of the technology supply chain, from early stage research (Cardiff University, Swansea University), through prototyping (Compound Semi Centre JV between CU and IQE, and Compound Semi Catapult) to full on manufacturing, and through the full value chain, from wafers (IQEplc), chips (Newport Wafer Fab), packaged devices (MicroSemi) and Equipment (SPTS.)

By creating the cluster, we have now established a core sovereign capability in the advanced semiconductor technologies within Wales and the UK, which will be at the heart of all major industrial sectors of the future; 5G communications, Hyperscale datacentres, electric vehicles, autonomous drive cars, robotics, healthcare, Internet of Things (IoT), Artificial Intelligence (AI), clean energy, satellite communications for global internet coverage, aerospace and Industry 4.

Drew made the point that by creating a core, high tech cluster, we have more control of our destiny as a county. As Drew says, a country that doesn’t have control of its technology, doesn’t have control of its economy.

With over 1500 people already employed within the cluster and an estimated 5000 further highly skilled and highly paid jobs planned over the next five years, we ought to be banging the drum across the world to encourage further development of this ground-breaking, world-beating industry, based right here in Wales.

So, for my part, whether it’s asking the US Ambassador to support us in attracting businesses from across the pond or supporting our own Welsh and UK Government ministers Ken Skates; Eluned Morgan and Alun Cairns, we must, in my view, double and redouble our efforts to place ourselves in pole position to capitalise on these immense opportunities, identified by MIT for the economy and our country. 

In an unpredictable world, one thing is for certain, we must embrace such opportunity to create a prosperous future for Wales.

Robert Lloyd Griffiths is Director of the Institute of Directors in Wales

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