EXCLUSIVE: The private sector is creating the first fiber-optic manufacturing facility in the western U.S. as the industry tries to keep up with record demand to expand broadband access and bring jobs back home.
Corning, in partnership with AT&T, will make the announcement on Tuesday from the site of the future plant in Gilbert, Arizona, which is expected to be operational by 2024. The project will expand manufacturing capacity for optical cable, which is critical for internet access and 5G.
The move will bring manufacturing jobs back home, a goal on both sides of the political aisle, as the U.S. economy tries to keep up with competitors on a range of technology. Japan and China are the top exporters of fiber-optic cable, according to the most recent data tracked by the Observatory of Economic Complexity.
The companies say demand for the product surged during the pandemic after supply chain issues created short-term shortages and more Americans began working remotely. Today, about three-quarters of adults in the U.S. have access to broadband internet at home, according to the Pew Research Center.
"It’s the last mile that's the challenging part," AT&T CEO John Stankey told FOX Business in an exclusive joint interview with Corning CEO Wendell Weeks. "There's been an awful lot of core infrastructure put in place. Now we've got to get out to the homes. We've got to get out to those smaller businesses that haven't had the benefit of fiber."
The project is expected to create 250 jobs, but that is far short of what experts say the industry needs to support its long-term goals. Corning estimates an additional 850,000 jobs must be created through 2025 to install the fiber-optic cable once it is made and ready to be deployed.
An image showing the inside of a fiber-optic cable. (iStock / iStock)
"This new facility will provide additional optical cable capacity to meet the record demand the industry is seeing for fast, reliable connectivity," Stankey said in an earlier statement on Tuesday. "We are also working with Corning to create training programs to equip the next generation of technicians with the skills to build the networks that will expand high-speed internet access to millions of Americans."
AT&T CEO John Stankey speaks at the MediaLink Presents: MASS-terclass: The New Age of Mass Personalization panel on the Times Center Stage during 2016 Advertising Week New York on September 28, 2016, in New York City. (John Lamparski/Getty Images for Advertising Week New York / Getty Images)
The project is part of a nearly $500 million private commitment from Corning to expand broadband access. It comes amid a renewed focus on getting Americans internet access, after the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law passed last year allocated $65 billion in new spending for broadband.
"This is a technology where we lead," Weeks added. "It’s our job to make sure we have enough capacity in the ground to serve the surging demand. That's what this announcement is about."