By Tova Cohen
TEL AVIV (Reuters) - Intel's Israeli subsidiary more than doubled its exports in 2012 to $4.6 billion and is seeking to bring manufacturing of the company's next generation of chips to Israel.
Intel's exports, which rose 109 percent from $2.2 billion in 2011, were boosted by the start of production of chips using 22 nanometer technology at its Kiryat Gat plant in southern Israel, which is now operating at full capacity.
Intel, the world's No. 1 chipmaker, will build chips over the next two to three years with features measuring just 14 nm in Ireland and the United States but the company is already thinking about where it will produce 10 nm chips. The narrower the features, the more transistors can fit on a single chip, improving performance.
Intel Israel executives said they would like to see 10 nm production in Israel.
"The average life of a technology is two to six years so we need to be busy to get the next technology, 10 nanometer," Maxine Fassberg, general manager of Intel Israel, told a news conference on Sunday. "We need to get a decision far enough in advance to be able to upgrade the plant. So for 10 nanometer, decisions will need to be made this year."
Fassberg said upgrading the existing Fab 28 plant in Israel would require a lower investment than building a new plant but would still involve several billion dollars.
Intel Israel has in the past received government grants to help with the costs of its investments and Fassberg told Reuters the company was "constantly in talks with the government".
Intel has invested $10.5 billion in Israel in the past decade, including $1.1 billion in 2012, and has received $1.3 billion in government grants.
The company accounted for 20 percent of Israel's high-tech exports last year and 10 percent of its industrial exports, excluding diamonds.
"If Intel had not increased its exports, Israel's high-tech exports would have shrunk by 10 percent," Intel Israel President Mooly Eden said.
Most of Intel Israel's exports - $3.5 billion - came from its chip manufacturing activities.
Intel is Israel's largest private employer, with 8,542 workers, up 10 percent from 2011. The company has two plants - in Jerusalem and Kiryat Gat - as well as four research and development centers.
Eden said Intel was also committed to investing in start-ups, having invested in 64 Israeli companies since 1996. In July its global investment arm Intel Capital said it would expand its operations in Israel.
(Reporting by Tova Cohen; Editing by Helen Massy-Beresford)