If you drive for about an hour south of Taipei, you’ll stumble upon one of the most important plots of land for the global economy. Massive buildings dot the 1,400 hectare-Hsinchu Science Park, featuring logos of the world’s biggest and most advanced chipmakers: Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company, United Microelectronics Corporation, MediaTek. They’re just a handful of the approximately 500 tech companies that call the Park home.
Back in the 1980s, Taiwan’s government wanted to establish a zone that specialized in manufacturing and research and development for the tech industry. The Hsinchu Science Park started off as a hub for PC production, with the government dangling carrots such as tax and land incentives to entice companies to set up shop there. But a decade later, the science park shifted to become something else: The place for high-end semiconductor production.
“This park has been at the center of Taiwan’s efforts to first build the technological capacity to have a chief industry, to second train the workforce that the industry requires, and third incubate most of the key firms that have emerged in Taiwan,” Chris Miller, author of Chip War: The Fight for the World’s Most Critical Technology, says. “It’s a really interesting and successful mix of education and training programmes where it’s easy for firms to get established, and find partners and skilled workers.”
Taiwanese companies, like those based in Hsinchu, have a tight grip on the world’s semiconductor industry. Chip making companies like TSMC and UMC now count Apple, Nvidia, and Qualcomm as customers.
Other governments are now trying to emulate that success. Both the U.S. and Japan, one-time chip powerhouses, now offer billions of dollars in subsidies for domestic chip manufacturing, whether in Arizona, Ohio, or Japan’s Kumamoto Prefecture.
Home to the biggest chip players
Drive around Hsinchu Science Park, and you’ll see the biggest names in chipmaking.
There’s Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world’s leading manufacturer of advanced chips and Asia’s most valuable company.
There’s United Microelectronics Corporation (UMC), Taiwan’s first semiconductor company and one of the world’s top contract chipmakers.
And there’s MediaTek, a market-leading fabless semiconductor company that designs chips for mobile devices and home entertainment systems.
“If not for the science parks…