Foxconn Technology Group is reconsidering plans to make advanced liquid crystal display panels at a $10 billion Wisconsin campus, and said it meant to hire mostly engineers and researchers rather than the manufacturing workforce the project originally promised. "It's also not surprising Foxconn would rethink building a manufacturing plant in Wisconsin under the Evers Administration", Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in a joint statement about the company's plans.
Louis Woo, special assistant to Foxconn Chief Executive Terry Gou, and the face of the company in Wisconsin is named as the source of the information. Research, assembly, and packaging would be the focus, suggesting that a product could be designed in Wisconsin, sent over to China for manufacture, and then shipped to the United States for final assembly, packaging, and shipment to consumers.
In exchange, Wisconsin agreed to give Foxconn at least $3 billion in state tax credits and breaks, according to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, a public-private agency that helped negotiate the package.
Instead of a manufacturing facility that was supposed to create 13,000 blue collar jobs, Foxconn is reconsidering its plans and is likely to turn the Wisconsin facility into a "technology hub" that would include research facilities and the production of specialized tech products.
Foxconn's announcement also comes with the U.S. economy showing signs of slowing just as campaigning for the 2020 election gears up, with the state of Wisconsin a key battleground.
In its statement, Foxconn said it remained committed to building its science park in Wisconsin and "the creation of 13,000 jobs". However, Woo's preferred option is manufacturing in China, assembly in Mexico, and import into the USA for sale.
Walker lost his reelection bid to Democrat Tony Evers in November amid harsh criticism of the Foxconn deal, which he'd championed since 2013.
The state's Republican former Governor Scott Walker - a vocal supporter of the plant - was defeated late previous year by a Democrat who said that the huge tax breaks offered to Foxconn risked negating the jobs it created in the state.
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There's been no response from Evers himself yet, though Secretary of Administration-nominee Joel Brennan says that despite regular communication with Foxconn officials, they "were surprised to learn about this development".
It hired 178 full-time employees rather than the 260 targeted in 2018, failing to earn a state tax credit worth up to $9.5 million.
And though Foxconn has restated their intent to fulfill their 13,000 job promise, doing so may be a fool's errand.
The White House had no immediate comment Wednesday. They also said the massive plant that was relying on water from nearby Lake Michigan posed serious environmental risks. And he scoffed at the idea that Foxconn, known for manufacturing, could transform into a research and development giant.
"Every step of the way Foxconn has overpromised and under-delivered", Democratic Wisconsin Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz said in a statement. But he says it appears Foxconn may be "leaving another state and community high and dry".
"I certainly would worry whether or not Foxconn would renege on that contract moving forward, and what kinds of protections are in place for the local businesses".
Still, the technology council head, said Foxconn can succeed if the plant becomes more research-oriented because their areas of interest match up with Wisconsin's strengths - such as robotics, medical imaging, and industrial imaging.