The expansion of Micron Technology Inc.’s Manassas plant is key to maintaining the company’s place as a supplier in the growing autonomous vehicle market, the company’s CEO and president said last week.

Sanjay Mehrotra discussed the project on Friday in Tysons Corner at the Tech Titans Breakfast’s fireside chat organized by the Northern Virginia Technology Council.

“I really consider Micron as a national treasure, an iconic company,” said Mehrotra, adding that everything is being shaped and driven by data. “And that data lives in the kind of products Micron makes.”

The $3 billion expansion of the Manassas plant is an answer to the demands of the technology business, including the autonomous car market. This means more space is needed for making the semi-conductors used to process the electric commands in driverless cars.

 “Those vehicles will have many sensors on them, and they will have to be like data centers on wheels,” Mehrotra said. “Those cars will have to be making thousands of split-second decisions in order to make sure you have a safe, comfortable and efficient experience.”

The moderator of the chat, Gary Shapiro, president and CEO of the Consumer Technology Association, asked Mehrotra to explain what theoretically happens in an autonomous vehicle when a dog runs across the road.

Sensors and cameras on the car can recognize what’s in front of it, Mehrotra said. The car will quickly process how much time it has to stop, as well as the distance between it and an animal, child or object.

Today, humans have to make these decisions – these machines will make these same decisions, but faster, Mehrotra said.

Over time, consumers will see more autonomous features in traditional cars, making Micron’s memory technology more important, he said.   “None of us wants to ever be inside a car where anything fails because of electronics. It really has to be a culture of absolute zero failures.”

GROWING IN MANASSAS

The Manassas plant has been recognized for producing top-quality products and is the market share leader in the automotive market, according to Micron.

The entire Manassas team is innovative and works to find solutions to improve efficiency and the quality of Micron’s product, said Tim O’Brien, vice president and site director of the Manassas facility, speaking after the event.

Micron bought the Manassas plant in 2002 and has been investing in the site since, O’Brien said. The expansion is an answer to the demands of the technology business. An increase in the amount of data centers means more memory and storage products are necessary, O’Brien said.

The site employs more than 1,000 people, and the expansion calls for an additional 1,100 jobs to be added in the next decade — 160 of those positions have already been filled since the project was announced in August.

In the past eight months, 500 contractors have been hired for the project, Mehrotra said.

Mehrotra said companies like Amazon choose Virginia as a place to do business, in part because of the area’s colleges and universities that supply a constant stream of talented workers.

Northern Virginia Community College partnered with Micron in 2018 to create the engineering technology Fabrication Laboratory or, Fab Lab,  at the college’s Manassas campus.

A purpose of the lab is to strengthen the state’s tech talent pool, lawmakers said.

The company says it is working with universities to bring more women into engineering and technology.

About 46 percent of the employees at the Manassas site are from underrepresented communities, according to information from Micron.

“Women are about 17 percent, which is not as high as what we would like it to be, so we have some big initiatives right now with respect to our hiring,” O’Brien said.

Micron has a strong relationship with the city of Manassas and its council, O’Brien said.

Micron has very specific needs when it comes to utilities and workforce, so the city has to ensure Micron has access to clean water and reliable electricity, said Manassas City Councilman Ian Lovejoy, who attended Friday’s event.

“I served as chairman of the city’s Economic Development and Land Use Committee while much of the discussions with Micron took place,” Lovejoy said. “I have to say city staff is to be commended for doing incredible work in bringing this expansion to reality.”