Foxconn Technology Group plans to hire 150 people to work in Eau Claire on developing and testing new technology, beginning next year in two downtown buildings.
Company executives announced what they dubbed Foxconn Place Chippewa Valley on Monday morning at a news conference in Phoenix Park attended by many from the local business community.
“This indicates a major milestone for our place in Wisconsin,” said Alan Yeung, Foxconn’s director of U.S. strategic initiatives.
Foxconn is closing deals this year on 15,000 square feet on the first floor of the Haymarket Landing building, 400 Eau Claire St., which could be seen behind Yeung as he spoke, and on the entire six-story former Wells Fargo building at 204 E. Grand Ave.
Gov. Scott Walker, whose efforts to bring a $10 billion Foxconn flat-panel display manufacturing facility with 13,000 jobs to Wisconsin has been a key piece of his re-election hopes in November, touted the company’s plan for the Chippewa Valley. He said the new jobs will keep graduates of UW-Eau Claire, UW-Stout and Chippewa Valley Technical College in the area instead of leaving for other states, which is often called “brain drain.”
“With this it’s one more example of Wisconsin being a brain gain state,” Walker said.
Yeung said talent from the Chippewa Valley’s colleges and the reception from the local business community on prior visits were among the reasons why the company is choosing to build an innovation center and technology hub here.
“By doing that we hope to attract and develop talent, connect with supply chain partners and encourage innovation,”Yeung said.
The company made a similar announcement last month with the purchase of a former Younkers department store in Green Bay, which is expected to employ more than 200 as an innovation center. The company also is creating 500 tech jobs in Milwaukee at its U.S. headquarters. Its factory under construction in Racine County is slated to employ 13,000.
Walker teased Foxconn’s announcement last week in a speech to the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce, but details were kept under wraps.
UW-Eau Claire Chancellor James Schmidt was among those who heard Foxconn’s plans for the area for the first time on Monday. While it’s too early to tell if the university will adjust any programming to help train for the 150 new tech jobs coming here, Schmidt said he looks forward to conversations with the company to learn more about their needs.
Schmidt mentioned the role that some of the university’s graduates had in bringing attention to Eau Claire’s ability to foster new technologies.
“Eau Claire is developing a reputation for innovation,” Schmidt said, referencing the software company Jamf that was founded by UW-Eau Claire graduates.
Mike Schatz, executive director of Downtown Eau Claire Inc., said while Foxconn wouldn’t be the biggest downtown employer — credit union RCU and Jamf both have more workers in their buildings — it adds to the momentum of new businesses in the heart of Eau Claire.
“Any time you add 150 jobs that’s an amazing story,” Schatz said.
And he appreciated that they’re buying key downtown locations that have sat empty.
“High-tech jobs and filling vacant buildings are good things,” Schatz said.
Built in 1929, the six-story building on Grand Avenue had most recently been a Wells Fargo location with other offices up until the bank closed it in 2016. After that, Eau Claire-based JCap Real Estate had worked to convert the building into apartments. Foxconn is buying the historic building now, and Yeung spoke about renovating its interior and turning it into a “smart building.”
Haymarket Landing was completed in 2016 with housing for about 400 UW-Eau Claire students and commercial space on the ground floor. A couple of fitness businesses have moved into the ground floor, and Acoustic Cafe has reserved a spot, but other storefronts in the building had been empty. Foxconn will take up a large chunk of that space, buying 15,000 square feet mostly on the side facing the city’s planned Haymarket Plaza where the Eau Claire River flows into the Chippewa River.
Walker wore a white Wisconn Valley baseball cap with blue embroidery on the side showing Eau Claire’s location on a map of the state. Several others in the audience of dozens of local business, government and education leaders donned similar hats for the announcement, which brought several rounds of applause.
However, there were others in Phoenix Park who did not share in the jubilation.
Several protesters stood on a sidewalk about 40 yards away from the news conference, holding up signs opposing Foxconn and Walker.
“Foxconn is here to exploit these natural resources and waterways for their own greed,” said Ben Orlikowski, who was among a half-dozen local protesters who remained after the speeches.
Anticipated environmental impacts and massive water use for the company’s manufacturing facility are among the criticisms he had, plus working conditions at the company’s Asian factories that have led to worker suicides.
The protesters said Walker’s policies laid the groundwork for Foxconn, including Act 10 in 2011 that weakened unions, which they said keep wages and working conditions down.
Justin Andersen of Eau Claire also mentioned the company’s broken promises in other areas where they were promised a deal to bring their business there.
“They have this huge track record, and this is being considered a win?” he said.
When asked about the protests that have cropped up at his appearances to tout Foxconn, Walker said they’re tied to the current political season and he feels those people will feel differently when the company delivers on its jobs promises next year.
“Yes we are in a partnership with Foxconn, but everything they get they earn,” Walker said about job and construction targets tied to about $4.5 billion in public incentives for the company.
Schatz noted that for Foxconn’s plans for Eau Claire, there have been no public incentives requested or provided.
“This was a pure private sector-to-private sector transaction,” he said, noting the city government didn’t know much about it until Friday.
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