The lede in an exclusive Reuters story making the rounds Wednesday was chilling:
“Foxconn Technology Group is reconsidering plans to make advanced liquid crystal display panels at a $10 billion Wisconsin campus, and said it intends to hire mostly engineers and researchers rather than the manufacturing workforce the project originally promised.”
Awarded an incentive package worth nearly $4 billion, the Taiwanese company initially agreed to invest in a campus in Racine County’s Mount Pleasant that could eventually employ up to 13,000 workers. Foxconn was going to make large-screen displays for televisions and other products.
That seems highly unlikely now. Instead, according to Reuters, the facility will be made up of research space and possibly packaging and assembly operations. A source also said there would be around 1,000 workers by 2020; Foxconn already had fallen short on its hiring goal for last year.
“In terms of TV, we have no place in the U.S.,” Louis Woo, special assistant to Foxconn’s CEO, told Reuters. “We can’t compete.”
“In Wisconsin we’re not building a factory,” Woo added. “You can’t use a factory to view our Wisconsin investment.”
But many did.
Marc Levine, senior fellow and founding director of the UW-Milwaukee Center of Economic Development, called it “one enormous bait-and-switch” in an email to the Associated Press.
He also was dubious of Foxconn becoming a significant R&D player.
“That’s simply not what Foxconn is,” Levine said. “So the notion that there will be 13,000 research jobs at Foxconn is highly, highly unlikely.”
The AP reported that some Republican legislative leaders blamed new Democratic Gov. Tony Evers for the change in plans. But Evers was duly elected governor in November. If the architects of the deal didn’t provide contingencies for that possibility, that’s on them.
“The Walker administration and legislative Republicans failed to put in place stronger safeguards to hold Foxconn accountable and protect Wisconsin taxpayers,” state Senate Democratic Leader Jennifer Shilling of La Crosse said in a news release. “Their negligence has put home-grown businesses at a competitive disadvantage while committing taxpayers to decades of economic costs and liabilities for a project that continues to shrink in size and scope.”
The Reuters article breaking the news closed with a paragraph equally as troubling as the introduction:
“The company may be prepared to walk away from future incentives if it is unable to meet Wisconsin’s job creation and capital investment requirements, according to (a) source familiar with the matter.”
— Liam Marlaire, assistant editor