Friday, April 12, 2019
We’ve been covering a lot of news from Foxconn’s Wisconsin project, the first United States facilities for the famous (or infamous) Taiwanese electronics manufacturer. Announcements and groundbreaking took place for five locations: Milwaukee, Mount Pleasant, two in Eau Claire, and Green Bay, all of which promised jobs. According to a thorough report from The Verge, most of these projects are not underway, and in fact, may not happen unless some major changes come through in construction, staffing, and the way the state liaises with the corporation.
“A few dozen” people are employed at Foxconn’s Milwaukee headquarters as of April 10, The Verge Investigations Editor Josh Dzieza discovered. In Eau Claire, two buildings which were supposed to be functioning “technology hubs” stand empty. One is now up for lease after Foxconn’s waffling on price and specifications dragged on too long for the owner. In Green Bay, the building supposed to house Foxconn holds retail stores, offices, and several empty floors. In Mount Pleasant, one warehouse stands on 800 acres, apparently mid-construction.
It’s possible that construction, permitting, staffing, and all the elements of rolling out a project of this size and scope are simply taking longer than intended. Maybe in two years, those empty floors will be bustling. But for now, the Wisconsin project seems covered in uncertainty.
Some local politicians believe that the project’s message—that Foxconn will create jobs and foster a positive relationship between the United States and the corporation—is actually all there is to it. Milwaukee Alderman Robert Bauman told The Verge that Foxconn had been trying to drum up a positive message rather than actually building anything.
“They were increasingly tuned into the politics in Wisconsin, and were increasingly aware that maybe this deal isn’t going over so well. We’ve got to give the appearance that we’re doing good things throughout the state,” Bauman said.
Harvard Professor Willy Shih says that this isn’t an unheard of practice in China, where companies will hold “state visit projects” to handshake with local politicians. The projects are understood to not always actually result in new facilities.
Governor Scott Walker (R-WI) offered a subsidy package of $4.5 billion to Foxconn in July 2017 as part of his reelection campaign. It will pay out after Foxconn meets certain hiring and production goals, which, as of now, seem far from being met. Walker didn’t win reelection, and Democrat Tony Evers took the governor’s spot in January 2019. Meanwhile, Walker shifted responsibility for the Foxconn liaison from the governor’s administration to the state’s economic development corporation.
President Donald Trump has also used the deal as a political platform, pushing for it to bring jobs.
Foxconn says construction is proceeding according to schedule and will resume this summer.
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