On June 11, Silicon Valley-based company KLA opened a temporary Research and Development site in Ann Arbor. The global capital equipment company specializes in artificial intelligence, sensor technology and protons and electrons, and hopes to take advantage of the engineering talent the University of Michigan provides, according to Click on Detroit.com.
KLA started in 1976 when the company had a breakthrough with a mask inspection tool. They currently partner with customers around the world to develop state of the art inspection and metrology technology.
With more than 10,000 global employees, KLA announced their plans for opening an Ann Arbor location Oct. 24, 2018. In a news release on their website, CEO Rick Wallace, a graduate of the University with a bachelor’s degree in engineering, said he hopes to strengthen ties with the University.
John McLaughlin, Ann Arbor site leader for KLA and 2005 University graduate, said the company purposely picked the location in Ann Arbor near North Campus after considering more than 350 possible sites because of its high quality-of-life, low cost-of-living compared to the Bay Area and its engineering talent.
“Big picture: we are creating 600 jobs in Ann Arbor,” McLaughlin said. “We are establishing a second headquarters and a major R&D facility here. The goal is to be a growth center for the company’s future.”
The current R&D site is temporary and KLA will spend the next two years hiring as many people as possible before they open their permanent facility in Ann Arbor. There are currently 60 positions available and the opening dates and details of the new facilities are available on their website.
McLaughlin said University engineers are their main focus for hiring, but the company will also look to other universities across the Midwest — including other Big Ten schools and Carnegie Mellon University.
“The numbers that we need to hit are high enough that even if we recruited every single U-M engineering student who qualified for our roles, we still wouldn’t have enough people,” McLaughlin said. “A lot of our jobs require an advanced degree or a specialized undergraduate degree in engineering.”
Silicon Valley, the home of large companies such as Google, is arguably the hotspot for engineering and computer science graduates. However, it is one of the most expensive places to live in the country. According to Curbed San Francisco, a recent census done by Joint Venture Silicon Valley discovered the median home sale price for a house is $1.2 million.
McLaughlin hopes with this new KLA location, young employees will be able to experience a Silicon Valley-level career without the high cost of living.
“Our tagline is ‘Launch your Silicon Valley career in Ann Arbor,’” McLaughlin said.
University alum Eric Yu currently works at Instagram in San Francisco. Though he has always wanted to live in that area, he admits the financial help he received with moving costs helped make his decision easier.
“It’s fortunate that the company I work at provided a lot of financial help with moving trucks, helping cover for the flight out there,” Yu said. “I’m pretty lucky there, but for some people, when you don’t get that covered, it’s such a financial burden to take that jump out.”
Yu said he thinks Silicon Valley is a great place for an early career, but there are still problems with living in the Bay Area.
“I think it’s a great place to be, especially early career,” Yu said. “(But) there’s lots of challenges of overpopulation here, obviously a huge gender gap here, (and other) pros and cons of being out here.”
Herbert Winful, computer science professor at the University for more than 32 years, said he is excited that KLA has opened a new location in Ann Arbor because it will hopefully keep more students in Michigan.
“I think many of them do like Ann Arbor and would like to stay if there were more opportunities to apply their trade locally,” Winful said. “And also for students who have not graduated yet who want internships, it’s wonderful to have a high-tech company locally.”
He also thinks with this new location, students will be more encouraged to take advantage of the financial support the University and local alumni can offer for graduate school.
“We hope that a good number of them will go on to graduate school,” Winful said. “Much of the work that will be done at those facilities involves research at a very high level and they’ll be needing a Ph.D.”
Yu said if companies of this scale had locations in Ann Arbor, he would have seriously looked into staying in Michigan.
“I think if there’s more of these kind of offices in different places, at least for me, I would have considered sticking around too,” Yu said. “I think having more offices and more opportunities in Detroit or Ann Arbor could have been really helpful.”
This is one of McLaughlin’s goals: to keep Midwestern talent in the Midwest. The Ann Arbor native says he thinks Big Ten students will enjoy a new environment not too far from their home base.
“If you are a student at Purdue, you’re most likely from the Midwest, you are going to school in a Midwestern college town,” McLaughlin said. “As you come out, it’s exciting to think about being in a cool Midwestern town that’s not unlike where you’re going to college, with a lot of opportunity and a rich cultural life.”