Foxconn Technology Group officials promised last July to bring a share of the largest economic development project in Wisconsin history to the Chippewa Valley.
In a major news conference, they announced plans to create 150 high-tech jobs by opening a downtown Eau Claire innovation center, dubbed Foxconn Place Chippewa Valley, in 2019. The officials indicated they had reached agreement to acquire the former Wells Fargo building and about half of the ground floor of the Haymarket Landing building to house the project.
Eleven months later, the Taiwan-based electronics giant has purchased about 15,500 square feet of commercial space on the first floor of the Haymarket Landing building, but it remains empty. No people, no desks, no construction.
Local officials said last week they have heard little from Foxconn about the status of the Eau Claire innovation center, but they assume the project will proceed eventually.
“We’re still working on the assumption that they are going to do the expansion as originally planned,” said Aaron White, economic development manager for the city of Eau Claire.
White and City Manager Dale Peters met with four members of the Foxconn team a few weeks ago for an update.
“They didn’t have a specific timeline they could provide, but they also didn’t give any indication that the project wasn’t going to move forward,” White said, noting that Foxconn didn’t receive any incentives from the city for the project.
In a statement released Saturday, Foxconn remained committed to its plans.
“Foxconn Technology Group is proud to be moving forward with this crucial part of our commitment to Wisconsin and will continue to work with our partners in the Eau Claire area and across the state on this project,” the statement reads. “The innovation centers are part of a long-term initiative outside of and in addition to our agreement with the state, and fostering the kind of economic activity they can help create is an effort to which we and our partners are fully committed.”
Downtown Eau Claire, with its mix of technology workers and UW-Eau Claire students living at Haymarket Landing, is just the kind of place Foxconn seeks when trying to create a work environment that will generate innovation, Alan Yeung, Foxconn’s director of U.S. strategic initiatives, told the Leader-Telegram in a September visit to Eau Claire.
During the same visit, Yeung said Foxconn’s goal was to occupy finished space in Eau Claire as early as December 2018 and that the company intends to collaborate with UW-Eau Claire and community leaders to determine exactly what research projects local employees would pursue.
Stuart Schaefer, president of Commonweal Development Corp. in Eau Claire, said he has heard little about the project since his firm sold Foxconn the Haymarket Landing space, at 200 Eau Claire St., for $2.7 million last fall.
“They haven’t started construction yet, but they haven’t said they’re not going forward, so I don’t know what they’re up to,” Schaefer said.
Meanwhile, Foxconn officially backed out of any commitment to occupying the former Wells Fargo building at 204 E. Grand Ave., according to JCap Real Estate, which owns the six-story building.
The city issued Foxconn a building permit on Jan. 31 to renovate the shell space at Haymarket Landing, which along with Pablo Center is part of the Confluence Project at the intersection of the Eau Claire and Chippewa rivers. The permit, which is good for two years, showed an estimated project cost of $2 million.
City records also indicate Foxconn designated Eau Claire-based Market & Johnson as the contractor for the project.
Market & Johnson president Jerry Shea said Thursday the project remains in the design phase. While some heating, ventilating and air conditioning equipment has been ordered, the construction start date is still unknown, he added.
“We stand ready to get going when they are,” Shea said.
With the speed of change in the high-tech industry, project delays are not unusual for technology clients, he noted.
Media reports have indicated the other innovation centers Foxconn has announced across the state appear to be similarly delayed. The centers are in Green Bay, Milwaukee, Racine and Madison.
David Minor, president of the Eau Claire Area Chamber of Commerce, said he hasn’t heard an update on the local Foxconn project for several months, but he is not alarmed by the delay.
“I’ve come to expect there will be delays on big projects like that,” Minor said. “I think it will still happen. It’s just a matter of time.”
In this case, Minor speculated the delay in the Eau Claire project is likely related to changes in the company’s plans for a $10 billion manufacturing facility in Racine County it says will employ up to 13,000 people. The plan calls for more than $4 billion in tax credits and other public incentives to the company.
“I think that’s their focus right now,” he said.
When Foxconn Place Chippewa Valley moves ahead, it should only add to the momentum of downtown Eau Claire, Minor said.
“Any business that moves in here and wants to employ 150 people, that’s a good thing for Eau Claire,” Minor said.