Brazil is building what is considered one of the most advanced semiconductor businesses in the Southern Hemisphere, and it wants Silicon Valley engineers to apply for jobs.
SIX Semiconductors -- a $500 million project financed by the Brazilian Development Bank, IBM and an investment group comprising Brazilian oil and mining companies -- is poised to pioneer the semiconductor industry in Brazil, one of the world's fastest-growing economies. But the factory's 300 new jobs require technical skills that Brazil's workforce doesn't have, SIX leaders and industry experts say.
"What's missing in Brazil? Everything almost," said Milton Torres, chairman of the board for Six Semiconductors. The semiconductor industry "doesn't exist south of the equator."
So SIX went to the obvious place -- the birthplace of semiconductors -- to find employees.
The company's recruiting efforts here and its plans for a partnership with Stanford University will deepen the valley's ties with Brazil, valley business leaders say. While not the first Brazilian company to hire aggressively from the valley, SIX is one of the largest and, with backing from the Brazilian government, one of the most powerful, some Bay Area Brazilians say. The valley's budding relationship with SIX -- and the government banks helping to finance it -- gives local businesses a door to the booming Brazilian market.
"Brazil gets better people, better technology, and a whole new market opens up to Silicon Valley companies looking to expand," said Vicente Silveira, a Brazilian native and director of engineering at LinkedIn, who spoke as a member of Silicon Valley networking group BayBrazil. "It has the potential to be a very healthy relationship."
In January, SIX executives visited the valley to tout the company to business leaders, engineering students and expats who left a barren Brazilian job market decades ago for tech careers in the valley.
"The reason why they are in Silicon Valley is the same reason a bank robber would go to a bank," said Harald Batista, a Brazil native and software broker in Los Altos Hills whose brother, Eike Batista, is one of the partners backing SIX. What they want, he said, is a piece of the Silicon Valley's most prized possession -- its brain trust of cutting-edge technology and innovation.
Torres said SIX hasn't hired anyone from the Bay Area yet but is in final negotiations with three people, and will recruit from the valley "for many years to come."
SIX wants about 145 employees on the payroll by the end of the year and will double that by the time it opens in late 2014 or early 2015 in Ribeirão das Neves, a suburb in the Brazilian state of Minas Gerais, north of Rio de Janeiro. It will make custom chips for energy-saving appliances and lighting, and plans to spearhead technology changes in global public health.
Brazil's universities, in desperate need of reform, don't adequately prepare students for these sorts of technical jobs, Torres said, so SIX is starting with Silicon Valley students. SIX plans to join Stanford's Center for Integrated Systems, a partnership between the university and about 19 semiconductor and electronic companies.
Vincent Jackson, a Stanford engineering graduate student, met with executives in January. Jackson, 37, spent several years working in the tech industry, including work assignments in Latin America, before going back to school for his master's. He said the company drummed up interest in students -- there's something exciting about joining an industry that's just starting to blossom, he said.
"Brazil is kind of at a point in their development where they are moving up the supply chain," he said. "The Brazilians are next in line."
It's not just students who have their eyes on the South American giant. The Bay Area could see a reverse migration of mid-career Brazilians heading home to high-tech jobs that had never before been available in Brazil, Silveira said. When Silveira left Rio de Janeiro in 2001, "it was clear, if you wanted to stay in technology, there was no opportunity in Brazil. Now I'm not sure if my decision would be as clear-cut."
SIX brings more competition to the valley's already cutthroat environment, business leaders say. But it is also a "huge opportunity for American companies to take advantage" of Brazil's coming-of-age tech landscape, said Batista.
Brazil has the world's fourth-largest market for cars and TVs, a surging use of mobile devices and PCs, and an oil and gas boom to power the economy. Research firm Gartner projects that IT spending will hit $130 billion in 2013, the second highest among the BRIC nations (Brazil, Russia, India and China, which have similarly fast-growing economies).
Facebook, Twitter and PayPal are among the big players making inroads in Brazil, and Apple's (AAPL) manufacturing partner Foxconn recently began making iPads in Brazil. SIX will lay some of the groundwork for more valley companies to join them in Minas Gerais -- it's building a technology park and roads connecting it to an international airport.
"If you want to go to a place where things are happening," said Silveira, "you should probably go to Brazil."
Contact Heather Somerville at 925-977-8418. Follow her at Twitter.com/heathersomervil.