Feb 21, 2024 - Economy

Axios interview: Illinois gov. adds $500 million to quantum computing quest

A person in a hazmat suit works in a yellow-tinted lab

People work at a nanofabrication facility at the University of Chicago, which is part of the Chicago Quantum Exchange. Photo: Erin Hooley/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Illinois Gov. JB Pritzker is devoting half a billion dollars in his new budget to boost quantum computing.

Why it matters: The proposal is part of a sweeping quest to remake the state as a hub for the future of semiconductors, quantum and AI.

Zoom in: Pritzker tells Axios that he's carving out $200 million for a cryogenic facility — needed to keep quantum computing systems cool — as well as $100 million for the development of a quantum campus site and $200 million in matching funds.

  • "We already were establishing ourselves as a leading hub for quantum development — now we have the opportunity to take it a big step further," Pritzker says in an interview.

The big picture: The investment would complement Illinois' bid to secure the headquarters of the National Semiconductor Technology Center, an R&D accelerator the Biden administration is establishing as part of the $280 billion CHIPS Act.

  • The state is hoping that its combination of national labs — it's home to Fermi and Argonne federal labs — as well as the University of Chicago, the University of Illinois, the interdisciplinary Chicago Quantum Exchange and other private resources will give it a leg up in the race for the NSTC.
  • "Making sure that we're making the right investments early and demonstrating our commitment to that is confidence building among private industry and the federal government," Pritzker says.

The intrigue: Nick Farina, CEO of quantum computing startup EeroQ, said his company chose to base itself in Chicago because it's "far and away" the best place to do this type of work.

  • "We truly could have gone anywhere," he tells Axios.

Threat level: National security watchdogs say that the U.S. is in a race with China and other global competitors to lead in the development of quantum computing and semiconductors, which are viewed as critical to the future AI-driven economy.

  • "It's really the governor putting a marker out there and saying he wants Illinois to be a leader and the United States to be a leader in this burgeoning field," Josh Richman, SVP of corporate development at PsiQuantum, a member of the Chicago Quantum Exchange, tells Axios.

Yes, but: Silicon Valley, a region synonymous with computing, can't be ruled out as a winner of the NTSC and as a hub for the future of quantum.

  • Arizona, Texas, Ohio, New York and Indiana have also recently won major semiconductor investments, Bloomberg noted.

The bottom line: Pritzker says he's optimistic that the Illinois state legislature will embrace his proposal as a catalyst for job creation and investment attraction.

  • "These are capital investments, so they're long-erm investments. It's not in our operating budget," he adds.
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