Developments announced this week by a pair of Chittenden County businesses have strengthened the case for the region’s future as a hub of innovation — particularly in wireless technology and electric aircraft.
Beta Technologies, a South Burlington-based electric aviation start-up, secured $368 million in private capital this week, bringing the company’s valuation up to $1.4 billion. The company also announced plans to build a production facility for electric aircraft at Burlington International Airport.
GlobalFoundries, a New York-based microchip manufacturer and one of Vermont’s largest private employers, announced it will partner with Raytheon Technologies to develop and commercialize a special semiconductor component, or microchip, for the next generation of wireless infrastructure. GlobalFoundries will manufacture the chips at its plant in Essex Junction.
Cathy Davis, president of the Lake Champlain Chamber of Commerce, said both companies are poised to bolster the region’s growing tech sector and secure more high-paying jobs.
“It’s innovation and manufacturing,” Davis said. “The amount of talent and innovation that’s happening at both of those companies, in regard to the work they’re doing, I think is incredibly important.”
The latest funding round for Beta Technologies comes on the heels of a deal with United Parcel Service in April to produce at least 10 aircraft — and potentially 150 more — for the shipping and logistics giant by 2024. Kyle Clark, founder and CEO of Beta, said the company is looking to add about 300 employees to an existing 230-person staff to meet production goals.
Beta’s Alia aircraft is entirely electric and has a half-plane, half-helicopter design that enables vertical takeoffs and landings.
The Department of Defense is interested in the potential of the technology for military applications. In early May, Alia became the first manned electric aircraft to receive airworthiness authorization by the U.S. Air Force for test flights through Agility Prime, a public-private funding program with the Department of Defense.
The company was founded in 2017 and successfully partnered with United Therapeutics, a biotechnology company, to develop a prototype for transplant organs and tissues. The prototype led to a $48 million deal with United Therapeutics, and Beta signed a “similarly sized contract” with the U.S. Air Force, Clark said.
Chris Carrigan, vice president of business development at the Vermont Chamber of Commerce, said Beta’s work signals a “paradigm shift” in logistics and travel.
“It’s going to transform the way that we deliver goods and services, and how we travel regionally,” Carrigan said.
Carrigan, who also manages the Vermont Aerospace and Aviation Association, said ground-up aircraft manufacturing has historically concentrated on just three main hubs worldwide: Seattle, home to Boeing; Montreal, home to a cluster of aerospace companies; and Toulouse, France, home to aerospace giant Airbus.
Beta’s approach to building the aircraft from scratch “is really the first time it’s been done in New England,” Carrigan said.
Beta is well positioned to scale up while staying local, Carrigan said. Under Vermont law, materials for the maintenance and repair of aircraft are exempt from the state’s aviation sales tax, which keeps costs down in the long term.
In addition to the manufacturing facility, the company recently completed a 14,000-square-foot expansion of a hangar at Burlington International. Clark also expects to expand the facility that makes Beta’s charging stations, located in Williston.
The partnership between GlobalFoundries, which employs more than 2,000 people at its Essex Junction plant, and Raytheon, an aerospace and defense company headquartered in Waltham, Mass., also bodes well.
Raytheon’s proprietary “gallium nitride on silicon technology” will be licensed to GlobalFoundries as part of the agreement.
For years, the industry trend was to drive down the size of microchips — but 5G wireless technology requires larger chips made with gallium nitride that can withstand more heat and tolerate higher voltage levels.
GlobalFoundries already makes larger chips, which gives the company a competitive advantage.
The partnership has the support of Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., who chairs the Senate Appropriations Committee. Leahy is a long-time backer of the GlobalFoundries plant in Essex, and its predecessor company, IBM, which at one point employed as many 8,000 people.
“With announcements like this one, I see the potential for the future of American-made 5G and 6G running through Vermont,” Leahy said in a statement to VTDigger.
The GlobalFoundries-Raytheon partnership is a testament to “how federal investments, like in research and development, can have profound economic benefits for Americans too,” Leahy said.
A bill on the Senate floor this week would direct about $50 billion in emergency spending to stimulate development in the microchip industry, including GlobalFoundries.
Leahy’s office confirmed that the senator also helped acquire an extra $25 million for the Agility Prime program from which Beta now benefits.
Carrigan said the GlobalFoundries-Raytheon partnership is a welcome addition to the state’s $3 billion manufacturing economy.
“Any strategic investment in the Vermont plant is a good thing,” Carrigan said.
Lindsay Kurrle, secretary of the Agency of Commerce and Community Development, said cutting-edge developments at GlobalFoundries and Beta could have draw workers to Vermont.
It “not only attracts young talent from in and out of state,” Kurrle wrote in a statement to VTDigger, “but it provides community support, new and potential business partnerships and supply chain opportunities.”
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