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Intel Sets Example for Small Businesses

The chipmaker's $7 billion plan to add jobs and improve factories will give it an advantage over its cost-cutting rivals.

Good economic news is rare these days. So when a major U.S. company promises to create thousands of high-paying jobs, even the president gives thanks.

That's what happened to


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this week. The company said it will spend $7 billion over the next two years to build high-tech chip-manufacturing plants, prompting a "way-to-go" phone call from President Obama to Intel CEO Paul Otellini.

Like other Fortune 500 companies, Intel has seen demand for its products shrink in recent months. But they're still taking a leap of faith and planning for the future. What about your company? Times are tough and money is tight. But if you focus too much on day-to-day survival instead of long-term goals, you risk falling behind.

Otellini clearly wanted to make a national splash with his announcement, which is why he made it at the Economic Club of Washington, D.C., rather than at Intel's California headquarters. The jobs, described as high-wage and high-skill, will be filled at existing manufacturing sites in Oregon, Arizona and New Mexico.

"I am pleased to announce our intention to stamp the words 'made in America' on even more Intel products in the months and years to come," Otellini said.

With all the talk of economic-stimulus plans, U.S. consumers are becoming more receptive to "Buy American" pitches. And Intel is eager to make its case. Although Intel generates more than 75% of its sales overseas, the company spends most of its manufacturing and research-and-development budget in the U.S.

But Intel isn't expanding its manufacturing merely to boost American morale. The reason for massive investment is simple: It will help them get ahead. The weak economy may work in their favor, since competitors are less likely to make similar outlays.

"By most measures, we're at least two years ahead of the competition today, in terms of silicon technology, and my sense is that coming out of this investment, we'll extend that lead," Otellini told the

Intel's expansion will should also create jobs for suppliers. Computer makers will benefit as well. If Intel designs smaller, more energy-efficient chips, computer companies should be able to produce smaller, more efficient laptops, which could boost sales.

Of course, such a huge investment may seem relatively easy for a company with $15 billion of cash. But it's still a gamble, the kind you take if you're willing to think big.

It may seem like now's the time to slash expenses, and some companies have no choice but to do that. But the ones who will thrive, rather than just survive, will find opportunities to improve their businesses and gain market share.

Does the economic recession give you a leg up on your competition? Maybe there's room to expand a product line that a competitor has dropped. Maybe a location that was previously too expensive has become affordable.

An investment could be something as simple as renovating an office to make it more energy- and space-efficient. If you focus on conserving energy like Intel and its chips, you'll save money and people will view your company as forward-thinking.

Anything you do to create jobs is a win-win, whether you're hiring one person or 10. You'll probably get better applicants than you might have before, thanks to rising unemployment. These days, anyone who is hiring is a community hero.

Who knows? You might even get a call from the White House.

Elizabeth Blackwell is a freelance writer based in Chicago. She is the author of Frommer's Chicago guidebook, and writes for the Wall Street Journal, Chicago, and other national magazines.