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Chasing the Foxconn: Lo­cal meet­ing held for firms that want in on $10B project

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    Jela Trask, business and investment attraction director — key business liaison for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., speaks Tuesday at Chippewa Valley Technical College’s Energy Education Center on Eau Claire’s northwest side. About 25 businesspeople attended the local meeting for companies that might be interested in working on the $10 billion Foxconn Technology Group manufacturing campus planned for Mount Pleasant in Racine County.

    Staff photo by Dan Reiland
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Businesses interested in getting a piece of the $10 billion manufacturing campus that Foxconn Technology Group has planned for southeastern Wisconsin learned more about the project Tuesday afternoon in Eau Claire.

About 25 business people — hailing from Eau Claire firms, across the state and even Canada — attended the two-hour information session at the Chippewa Valley Technical College Energy Education Center, 4000 Campus Road.

“The scale of this project is too big for any one contractor to do on its own,” said Jela Trask, a Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. official who serves as a key liaison between the public-private state agency and Foxconn.

Eau Claire hosted the last meeting in a series of 14 held throughout the state in the past 2½ weeks to give potential contractors, subcontractors and suppliers information on the massive project and how they can get in on the bidding.

There will be about 400 packages for bids — ranging from those worth hundreds of thousands of dollars to others that will be several million, said Allen Ware, vice president of the partnership of Rhode Island-based contractor Gilbane and German company M+W Group, which specializes in clean rooms for high-tech factories, that was formed to manage Foxconn’s construction.

The first bids were slated to be awarded Tuesday night or today for soil and site preparation work at the building area in Mount Pleasant in Racine County, he noted. Construction of the first phase of the project — about 10 million square feet of buildings — is going to happen mostly next year and is scheduled to begin mass producing flat-screen TVs in 2020.

“This factory is actually geared toward 8K TVs — twice the resolution of what’s now on the market,” Ware said.

A second phase will follow with an additional 10 million square feet of buildings to increase production capacity. The two phases combined are expected to use 150,000 tons of structural steel, Ware noted, compared with the 10,000 tons for the new Milwaukee Bucks stadium now under construction.

Checking it out

Chris Dolen, owner of Heartquest Trainers, attended Tuesday’s meeting to see if there is some opportunity for his Eau Claire-based company that sells defibrillators and employee safety training courses.

“Safety is a big issue on construction sites,” he said.

While Foxconn wouldn’t have a contract just for those devices and services, Ware said that the bidder that gets the contract for construction site medical stations likely would need those. He advised Dolen to keep track of the status of that contract and network with firms likely to bid on them.

“It’s a start to get the process rolling,” Dolen said after Tuesday’s session.

His next step would be checking out websites established by Gilbane|M+W Group and WEDC for companies interested in work on the Foxconn project.

As of Monday morning, 869 companies had registered for construction-related work, said Linda Graves, vice president of diversity and community affairs for Gilbane|M+W Group.

Attendance at the 14 meetings held across the state ranged from 449 who packed the initial April 3 meeting in Sturtevant — close to the construction site — to a meeting in Superior that attracted seven people, Graves said.

While construction projects tend to usually draw companies from within 90 miles of the work site, leaders of Tuesday’s meeting stressed that Foxconn is expected to have a wider impact.

The project is considering prefabricated materials as part of its construction, Ware said, which would allow parts of the buildings to be made elsewhere and assembled on-site.

At its peak, the construction effort is expected to employ 10,000, he said, but they likely wouldn’t all be on-site at the same time.

The contractors have set targets on hiring local builders and including specific groups. At least 60 percent of the contracts will be with state-based companies, plus another 10 percent specifically from Racine County where the local incentives are coming from. And 10 percent of contracts will be filled by companies owned by women, racial minorities or veterans.

Graves said the information sessions are happening now so businesses can make plans if they want to get involved in the project. She said companies in the building industry usually have backlogs of work and would need to consider their existing jobs, plus their ability to take on part of a Foxconn contract.

Democrat detractors

Not everyone is excited for Foxconn, namely the incentives used to secure the Taiwan-based company’s first major manufacturing facility in the U.S.

The state is providing Foxconn with $3 billion in incentives over the next 15 years if the company meets goals for its new buildings’ value and creating all 13,000 jobs the company has promised.

Adding in local incentives provided in Racine County, upgrades by the local power utility and road projects ramped up near the Foxconn site, state Democrats have seized on nearly $4.5 billion in total public aid to the project.

Wisconsin Democrats are sponsoring a town hall meeting at 6 p.m. Monday at the Chippewa Falls Public Library, 105 W. Central St., to discuss the Foxconn deal.

Their email flier for the town hall calls the Foxconn deal “the largest taxpayer giveaway by a state to a foreign corporation in our nation’s history.”

Among those slated to attend that town hall is Rep. Dana Wachs, D-Eau Claire, who is among those campaigning to run in November against Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who has touted the Foxconn deal as a major accomplishment of his latest term.

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