Empower Wisconsin | Oct. 28, 2019
By M.D. Kittle
MADISON — There’s a bogus narrative on the Foxconn front being pushed by lazy reporters and liberals who love to hate the biggest economic development deal in Wisconsin’s history.
Last week, the Wisconsin Radio Network pumped out a story with this headline: “Foxconn Innovation Centers on hold across the state.”
WRN said there was “little evidence” the centers, announced 19 months ago, “are moving forward,” that the Taiwan-based high-tech giant that has pledged to build a massive manufacturing campus in Racine County had stalled work on its other announced projects around the state.
The story made a big splash, even if it tested the boundaries of the truth.
News outlets from the local communities to the Associated Press and other national players jumped on the story, apparently without confirming the facts with Foxconn Technology Group. Or even checking with other media sources.
Earlier in the month, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported Foxconn sought permits to undertake an estimated $695,000 worth of work to three elevators at its North American headquarters located in Milwaukee. The property, which Foxconn purchased from Northwestern Mutual Life for nearly $15 million, is also to serve as the “Wisconn Valley Innovation Center.”
The same story noted Foxconn has pulled permits for $50,000 in roof repairs at a Racine building it purchased, and for $2 million in remodeling on the building it bought in Eau Claire.
The city of Racine Building Department told Empower Wisconsin on Friday that Foxconn recently filed a permit seeking to make interior alterations on the Racine building slated to become an innovation center. The permit lays out plans for remodelling the property’s first floor.
A Wisconsin State Journal story parroted the narrative of the big, bad Foxconn not coming through on its big promises, asserting that “there is nothing to suggest the Taiwan-based electronics giant has moved employees into the Capitol Square building it purchased from BMO Harris Bank for $9.5 million earlier this year.”
The city’s building department said BMO, which still has employees at the site, has sought permits for wall removal and concrete work for the Capitol Square property.
While it is true Foxconn’s initial plans for the innovation centers may have been on a more aggressive timetable, it’s pretty clear the company remains committed to its ultimate goal.
“It is important to understand that Foxconn’s vision is to ultimately create a technology ecosystem for the state of Wisconsin,” Foxconn Technology Group told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel in July.
Foxconn’s immediate mission in that pursuit, the company said, is the construction of its planned $10 billion electronics campus in Pleasant Prairie. The proposal comes with up to $4 billion in state and local tax incentives — if Foxconn hits its hiring goals of 13,000 jobs at the proposed 20-million-square-foot manufacturing complex.
As it does so, company officials have said, it will build out its statewide network of innovation centers, designed to be “regional hubs” for its technology workforce. Foxconn tapped cities with strong university and tech college support systems.
Asked for comment, Foxconn Technology Group sent the following statement:
“Our vision is that when complete, our innovation centers will work closely with our operations at the Wisconn Valley Science and Technology Park. The hiring of workers at the Innovation Centers will be completed in accordance with the respective hiring plans of the business units engaged in Wisconsin. Our first step is to build out the core of our network at our manufacturing facility in Racine and the hiring at our innovation centers will follow.”
But that’s not the story from the Wisconsin Radio Network and the myriad news outlets that ran with the piece. It is the story that the left and opponents of the Foxconn deal have been telling ever since July 2017, when then-Gov. Scott Walker and President Donald Trump, both Republicans, announced the largest deal of its kind.
They don’t like the tax incentives involved. Fine. But they also insist that this multinational corporation is going to leave Wisconsin taxpayers holding the bag when it skips out of the state. They conveniently leave out the fact that the state incentives are largely based on Foxconn’s performance. If it creates the jobs, it gets the incentives. If it fails to do so, it loses out on the tax breaks.
The abandonment issues baked into the faulty narrative discounts the fact that hundreds of construction workers are already on the job building a 1-million-square-foot factory. Last week crews began installing the roof there. That’s on top of the $83 million worth of contracts Foxconn recently awarded to a dozen-plus companies contracted to build Foxconn’s first North American factory.
“In total, Foxconn has awarded more than $250 million worth of contracts for work in Mount Pleasant,” according to a recent story in the Daily Reporter.
Why would a company pour hundreds of millions of dollars into building facilities if it didn’t intend to stay?