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For all the wishful thinking about manufacturing more laptops and iPhones in the U.S., there is one sector of tech manufacturing where America remains a leader: computer chips.

Expand chart
Note: Locations on the map are approximated to prevent overlap; Data: Semiconductor Industry Association; Chart: Chris Canipe/Axios

The bottom line: Some $44 billion worth of semiconductors are exported from the U.S. each year, making them America's fourth leading manufacturing export after cars, airplanes and refined oil. There are roughly 80 wafer fabrication plants (aka fabs) in the U.S., spread across 19 states.

"The industry was invented in the good old US of A, and to a large extent it's still here, unlike a lot of manufacturing."
— John Neuffer, CEO, Semiconductor Industry Association

Driving the news:

  • A startup called SkyWater Technology is hoping to tap into interest in domestic production. The company bought a Minnesota fab from Cypress Semi and recently landed a DARPA contract to make chips for the government, expanding on existing deals.
  • Micron announced last week it plans to spend $3 billion to upgrade a plant in Manassas, Va., 40 miles west of Washington, D.C.
  • Intel last year announced a $7 billion expansion of its facility in Chandler, Ariz., a move it said would eventually create 3,000 jobs. (Work on that factory began in 2011 but never finished.)

Also: An even greater share of the world's computer chips are designed domestically and made overseas by companies including Qualcomm, Apple, Broadcom and Nvidia. A bunch of the high-tech gear needed to produce chips is also designed and/or made in the U.S.

Yes, but: While U.S. chip production has steadily grown, its share of the market (now 13%) has declined as other countries, especially Taiwan and Korea, have rapidly ramped up production. Plus, many of the most advanced facilities capable of producing the smallest transistors are now outside the U.S.

Investment needed: The biggest issue is that other countries are investing more to nurture their chip business, including funding basic research, Neuffer notes.

Other challenges: Another concern is the pure increase in number of fabs globally over the past 18 months, he says.

"We’ve seen non-market driven overcapacity in the past. We know what it looks like and that gives us some cause for concern."

Finally, Neuffer adds that the Trump administration's trade war isn't helping matters:

"The application of tariffs just is counterproductive. It doesn’t make any sense at all."

Go deeper: America’s chipmakers go to war vs. China

Go deeper

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

In photos: The Biden and Harris inauguration

President Biden and first lady Jill Biden watch a fireworks show on the National Mall from the Truman Balcony at the White House on Wednesday night. Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Biden signed his first executive orders into law from the Oval Office on Wednesday evening after walking in a brief inaugural parade to the White House with First Lady Jill Biden and members of their family. He was inaugurated with Vice President Kamala Harris at the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday morning.

Why it matters: Many of Biden's day one actions immediately reverse key Trump administration policies, including rejoining the Paris Agreement and the World Health Organization, launching a racial equity initiative and reversing the Muslim travel ban.

Republicans pledge to set aside differences and work with Biden

President Biden speaks to Sen. Mitch McConnell after being sworn in at the West Front of the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday. Photo: Erin Schaff-Pool/Getty Images

Several Republicans praised President Biden's calls for unity during his inaugural address on Wednesday and pledged to work together for the benefit of the American people.

Why it matters: The Democrats only have a slim majority in the Senate and Biden will likely need to work with the GOP to pass his legislative agenda.

The Biden protection plan

Joe Biden announces his first run for the presidency in June 1987. Photo: Howard L. Sachs/CNP/Getty Images

The Joe Biden who became the 46th president on Wednesday isn't the same blabbermouth who failed in 1988 and 2008.

Why it matters: Biden now heeds guidance about staying on task with speeches and no longer worries a gaffe or two will cost him an election. His staff also limits the places where he speaks freely and off the cuff. This Biden protective bubble will only tighten in the months ahead, aides tell Axios.