Biden’s ‘Made In America’ Plan Is Bullying Homeowners Off Their Land to Build a Taxpayer-Subsidized Chip Plant
Michelle Nuzzo-Kelly remembers feeling somewhat bewildered the first time someone called and offered to buy her house out of the blue.
She recalls putting the agent on speaker so he could hear the hammering going on in the background. “That’s the sound of a brand new roof being installed,” she told him. It was a $10,000 expense—hardly the sort of thing you’d do if you planned to move. That was in September 2020.
But the calls kept coming. Letters followed. They included offers—the first was “a slap in the face,” says Nuzzo-Kelly—and it wasn’t long before she got fed up with it. “I said, ‘stop calling me. My home is not for sale. There’s no for-sale sign on my property.'”
Neighbors got the same requests, all at the same time. It wasn’t long before she and other residents of Burnet Road, a dead-end strip of asphalt about 10 miles north of Syracuse, New York, were able to piece together a bit of what was happening.
Their homes were adjacent to a chunk of semi-wooded county-owned land, the White Pine Commerce Park, that had for years been proposed as an industrial site. Now, Onondaga County was hoping to enlarge the parcel to make it more attractive to a potential developer.
The county was coming for her home.
A month after the calls started, Nuzzo-Kelly and several of her neighbors attended a public meeting where the rest of the pieces fell into place. That’s where they learned that, a year earlier, Onondaga County had been negotiating with the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), the world’s largest maker of computer chips, to build a new fabrication plant—a “fab”—at White Pine. But the TSMC picked a site in Arizona instead, and now County Executive Ryan McMahon was determined not to be spurned again.
“This type of project would have been an amazing project, thousands of jobs, construction jobs, years of work for the trades, thousands of permanent jobs,” McMahon reportedly said at that meeting. “We’re on the map.”
Nuzzo-Kelly came away feeling quite differently. She was shocked to learn that the county had in effect been shopping her home around to prospective developers for more than a year before she knew anything about it. “This was all done secretly behind all of our backs,” she tells Reason. “It was just completely shady right from the start.”
For more than two years since that initial meeting, she and her neighbors in Clay, New York, have been caught in the middle of an economic development scheme that stretches from Onondaga County all the way to the White House. Last month, that effort culminated in the announcement that Micron, one of the world’s largest computer chip manufacturers, would build a factory in Clay. It’s a project that draws together President Joe Biden’s campaign-ready blather about luring high-tech manufacturing jobs to America with the promise of government handouts, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer’s (D–N.Y.) determination to bring some of those heavily-subsidized jobs to his home state, and the calculated ambition of star-struck local officials who seem to wish they were holding office somewhere else.
“On my watch, ‘Made in America’…isn’t just a slogan. It’s a reality,” Biden said on October 27 during a speech in Syracuse celebrating the project. “Today’s announcement is the latest example of my economic plan at work.”
But that economic policy has a dark side. If the alignment of government subsidies and political star power couldn’t force the residents of Burnet Road from their homes, the county had the ultimate trump card. It has the power of eminent domain, which the county’s industrial development board voted to authorize over a year ago.
The offers to buy Nuzzo-Kelly’s home were never really just offers. They were demands backed by a threat to use government power to force her to sell.
“These are our homes,” she remembers thinking. “How can somebody come in and threaten to take something that is ours when we don’t want to go?”
In the days after that October 2020 meeting with county officials, the residents of Burnet Road geared up for a fight. They formed a Facebook group, built a website, started organizing petitions, and sought local media coverage and legal help.
Among those who got involved was Britta Serog, who had grown up at the tail end of Burnet Road and then moved back a decade ago to help her ailing parents. Serog had deep roots here—a grove of towering pine trees behind her house was planted there by her father when she was just a girl. Serog says it is one of her earliest memories. Her parents’ ashes are now buried in the front garden.
“This is where I felt the most settled and now I feel the most unsettled here,” she says. After planning to have a quiet retirement here and building a hobby woodworking studio into a barn on the property, she plans to stay to the bitter end.
Paul Richer, a co-owner of the Hot House Brewing in nearby Cicerco, New York, was another leader of the resistance. Richer’s roots on Burnet Road go even deeper than Serog’s. He and his wife, Robin, now live in the charming kit-home bungalow that his parents built in 1954. Next door is the house that his grandfather built in the 1930s. Robin was born just down the road, and the two met when they were teenagers, when Paul was a hired hand on Robin’s father’s farm. “I was the farm boy who fell in love with the girl next door,” he says.
They raised two daughters here on Burnet Road, in a different home near the top of the street by the intersection with the highway, and then moved back to this house once the kids were grown and Paul’s parents had passed away. They seem to know the history of every single property and family up and down this mile-long stretch of asphalt.
“It was devastating,” Richer says, recalling the letter that he received during the holiday season in 2019 from the real estate company the county had been hired to acquire the homes on Burnet Road. He and Robin had a lot of work done in anticipation of growing old in the house—like putting in a renovated, more easily navigable bathroom, for example.
In light of all that, the offer from the county “was not fair,” Richer says. How could it be? The assessed value of their acre of land and nearly-70-year-old house wouldn’t capture the true, and subjective, value of this place to Paul and Robin.
So they stayed, defiantly continuing to grow a vegetable garden—when I visited in early October, their kitchen was full of baskets of freshly picked tomatoes from more than a dozen plants, which Paul was preparing to can—and maintaining the yard while the county-owned homes on the street grow more numerous and more unkempt.
The neighborhood wasn’t giving up easily, but Onondaga County has had powerful allies in high places.
Due to supply chain issues largely caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and the separate problem of escalating tensions between China and Taiwan, top officials in both political parties have fixated on the idea of bringing more computer chip manufacturing into the United States.
Schumer, the top Democrat in the Senate, has been a leading advocate for the campaign, insisting that an expanded American industrial policy for computer chips is both a national security issue and an economic development scheme. During a visit to Syracuse in April 2021, Schumer told reporters that three of the world’s leading semiconductor companies were interested in the White Pine site near Clay. “Each one said we were seriously being considered,” he said.
A month later, Schumer sweetened the pot. As he reintroduced a proposal to throw more than $50 billion in new corporate welfare at chipmakers in May 2021, Schumer promised that the package would be a “historic investment in the nation’s semiconductor industry that will strength [sic] national security and create jobs across Upstate New York.”
That proposal eventually became part of the Creating Helpful Incentives to Produce Semiconductors (CHIPS) Act, which passed Congress with broad bipartisan support this year.
“Because of the new law I signed and Chuck designed and delivered, we’re turning things way around—around in a very big way,” Biden said in his October 27 speech in Syracuse, a campaign-style event where he boasted about creating thousands of new factory jobs.
County officials have seemed awed by the possibilities. “It’s nuts,” McMahon, a Republican, told a local television station in September. “You’re talking to CEOs of companies that you watch on CNBC and then you’re taking a call from them.”
“We have the electric and gas resources to support a project that would be transformative for the next 30 years,” Robert Petrovich, director of the Onondaga County Industrial Development Agency (OCIDA), which is handling the process of buying out the Burnet Road homeowners, told a local paper in August 2021. “We become a different community. We become Austin, Texas, something like that.”
And if you believe that the only thing standing in the way of turning the outskirts of Syracuse, New York, into the next Austin are some stubborn homeowners and their pesky property rights, well, the next step is clear.
On August 24, 2021, the OCIDA voted 5–0 to use its eminent domain powers against the residents of Burnet Road who refused to sell their land.
Even though there are still some holdouts, the semiconductor project is beginning to materialize. In October, state and local officials held a press conference to announce that Micron, the world’s fourth-largest semiconductor manufacturer, had agreed to build a fab at the White Pine Commerce Park.
The White House issued a statement calling the announcement “another win for America.” Later in October, Biden took a trip to Syracuse to celebrate the Micron project in person. He called it “one of the most significant investments in American history.”
“This is our Erie Canal moment,” Schumer declared, comparing the construction of a single computer chip factory to the construction of the statewide waterway that in the mid-1800s helped transform upstate New York into an economic powerhouse.
“Everyone in this community will benefit,” Schumer said. “Everyone.”
Well, maybe not everyone.
Shadows of Kelo
What’s happening now to the residents of Burnet Road looks a lot like the early stages of the U.S. Supreme Court’s most famous case involving eminent domain.
That story began when city officials in New London, Connecticut—another down-on-its-luck postindustrial city that believed a renaissance could be created with the application of government power—tried to seize property in the Fort Trumbull neighborhood. The plan was to turn the land over to a private developer who would build a new corporate headquarters for Pfizer, a major pharmaceutical company. Susette Kelo and some of her neighbors refused to sell. They took the fight all the way to the Supreme Court.
“In short, the Kelo decision is one of the most reviled opinions that the Supreme Court has ever handed down,” says Bob Belden, an attorney with the Institute for Justice (I.J.), the libertarian law firm that made a name for itself by defending Susette Kelo’s little pink house. The 5–4 ruling, according to Belden, “basically says as long as a government is creative enough to come up with a public use or a public purpose, it can take a private person’s property and hand it over to another private person.”
Eminent domain is, of course, literally permitted by the Constitution. That is, governments have the power to take property, as long as the sellers are given just com
Article from Latest