Chandler in 1966 was far from the sprawling suburbia that we know today.
Its 10,000 or so residents lived within a couple-mile radius of Chandler Boulevard and Arizona Avenue. The sleepy community was surrounded by thousands of acres of cotton and sugar-beet fields. The small town, 8 miles from its nearest neighbor, Mesa, hardly seemed destined for a technology-induced growth spurt.
Despite all of this, Rogers Corporation, a technology company seeking to expand into the growing electronics industry, saw an opportunity to build its western headquarters in the farm town.
Rogers was founded in Connecticut in 1832 by Peter Rogers as a paper mill. For its first hundred years, it focused on making paper products. In the 1930s, its business model changed to the field of polymers, and it made a variety of products, including motor insulation and footwear.
By the 1960s, Rogers was the leading manufacturer of circuit boards and was looking to expand. In 1967, Rogers opened its Circuit Systems Division in a 40,000-square-foot facility in Chandler. The opening of Rogers’ factory set off a wave of development that has yet to slow down, and set Chandler on the path to being the center of the Silicon Desert.
By the late 1970s, Chandler leadership realized the need to diversify the economy and move away from its traditional agricultural roots. As Rogers continued to grow and expand in Chandler, city leaders actively courted an even larger technology company from Santa Clara, Calif. — Intel.
Intel was founded in 1968 as a semiconductor company building random-access memory for computers. Throughout the 1970s, Intel developed products including microcontrollers, wafer circuit boards, and ultimately microprocessors that would become the computer-industry standard. In 1979, Fortune magazine named Intel among the 10 greatest triumphs of the 1970s.
Chandler leaders lobbied hard to ensure that Intel’s next expansion would be in their city. In 1980, this became a reality as Intel opened its first manufacturing plant in Chandler, off of Chandler Boulevard at Rural Road.
In the three-plus decades since Intel’s arrival, the high-tech industry has, indeed, become a huge economic driver for Chandler. Intel has expanded many times, including a recent $5 billion expansion that was the largest construction project on the planet after the London Olympic Stadium. Its Chandler campuses represent the width and breadth of its business, including planning and logistics, assembly/test and development, packaging development, corporate environmental health and safety, product research, development, venture capital, and sales and marketing.
Chandler also is home to campuses for InfusionSoft, Orbital Sciences, PayPal and several other high-tech companies, including enormous server farms, which power a surprisingly large portion of the World Wide Web. Startup tech companies lease spaces in the Innovations tech incubator, prototyping ideas and products with the hopes of hitting on Chandler’s next big thing.
Chandler’s jewel, the Price Road Corridor, has been specifically designed to attract high-tech businesses to the area. As it continues to expand and attract high-tech businesses, Chandler and its Silicon Desert are poised to push the boundaries of technology in the 21st century.
Jody Crago is Chandler Museum administrator. Visit the Chandler Museum, 300 S. Chandler Village Drive in Chandler, Tuesdays-Saturdays, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. To learn more about Chandler history: www.chandlerpedia.org, 480-782-2877.