Monday, October 15, 2018

Opinion

So far, few Foxconn dollars coming to region

Take a map of Wisconsin that’s blank, with the exception of county borders and major municipalities.

Now, plot the headquarters locations of all 28 subcontractors chosen to work on the $100 million initial phase of the Foxconn project being constructed in Mount Pleasant. Although there are a few exceptions, a vast majority of the dots would be crowded into a small slice of southeastern Wisconsin.

Kudos to Hoffman Construction. The Black River Falls company earned a contract for mass excavation, stormwater and erosion control work. It’s also — at a distance of about 50 miles — the closest business to Eau Claire among the 28 signed on to work on the facility, which will be used to manufacture LCD screens. No other west-central Wisconsin company is on the list.

“Today we are seeing more of the Foxconn bonus throughout Wisconsin,” Gov. Scott Walker said in statement. “It is great to see Wisconsin businesses and working families from all over our state benefiting from this historic investment.”

Based solely on the first-phase allotment of work, that statement is premature.

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It’s important to emphasize that the announcement last week only pertained to $100 million of the project’s budget. With a total price tag of $10 billion, there’s significantly more money to be had for contractors.

Eau Claire in late April hosted the last meeting in a series of 14 held throughout the state “to give potential contractors, subcontractors and suppliers information on the massive project and how they can get in on the bidding,” according to a Leader-Telegram story by Andrew Dowd.

Those less enamored with the deal also are making their voices heard. Currently, state Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse and others are hosting a series of public town hall events. “In less than a year, the public cost of this project has increased from an original estimate of $3 billion to $4.5 billion,” reads a news release. “These town hall events will offer local residents an opportunity to meet with state lawmakers, learn more about taxpayer liabilities and comment on recently identified environmental risks.”

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Decision-makers in Madison often promote projects that benefit the state as a whole or a specific region. This may be prudent in the Foxconn case, but it’s unlikely to have a significant impact “all over our state.” And many have questioned the level of incentives it took to land the Taiwan-based company.

“We’re skeptical the massive and unprecedented government handout will pay off for Wisconsin taxpayers,” the Wisconsin State Journal said in an editorial. “But the deal is signed and done. So we’ll hope for the best, including as many as 13,000 jobs going to mostly people who live in Wisconsin.”

Indeed, the investment may pay off for the state. If the first round of contractor deals is any indication, however, that impact likely won’t reach into much of western Wisconsin.

It should be noted that 27 of the 28 companies hired are based in Wisconsin. That’s a positive. The one straggler is R.A. Seaton Contractor Services, which is based a short distance from Wisconsin’s southern border in Rockford, Ill.

And James Hoffman, president of Hoffman Construction, said in a story by the Leader-Telegram’s Eric Lindquist the announcement will result in “a very signficant expansion for our company.” He expects to add 150 more seasonal workers this year than is the norm.

We’re just hopeful that future phases of the project will include a few more entries from outside of southeastern Wisconsin.


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