Editor's note: An earlier version of this story mischaracterized the nature of Cree Inc.'s nonautomotive business.
When it comes to plant investment and work force recruitment in the auto industry, the traditional drivers are capacity needs, the rise of new competitors, or a manufacturer's foray into a new product area.
But lately, another factor is driving industry growth: technology.
Cree Inc. is an illustration of what happens when a tech supplier suddenly finds opportunity beckoning in automotive.
Cree, a North Carolina company that derives most of its business from power and radio frequency semiconductors and lighting class LEDs, is spending $1 billion on two U.S. sites to feed emerging demand for its silicon carbide materials, a technology now being embraced for auto industry electrification.
Cree's investment covers the expansion of its existing mega materials factory in Durham, N.C., and the construction of a 480,000-square-foot wafer fabrication facility in Marcy, N.Y.
Cree aims to have nearly 240 workers in the Marcy facility by the end of 2023 and more than 600 there during the following five years. Cree's overall head count in North Carolina will also continue to grow.
"When we announced the $1 billion expansion and 30-times capacity increase, we were able to project a much lower [unit] cost because of the increase in volume," said Kenric Miller, vice president of global sales and marketing for automotive at Cree.
"With our announcements and what our investments are, we're going to dramatically be lowering the cost of silicon carbide, and by doing that, that's enabling car companies to make that switch," he added.