Happy second birthday, Foxconn

    Trump Walker Ryan Pence announce Foxconn
    President Donald Trump Announcement event with Foxconn Wednesday, July 26, 2017, in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

    Two years ago today Foxconn announced its plan to build a new factory in Southeastern Wisconsin and a promise to employ 13,000 people in return for more than $3 billion in aid from the state. 

    The project has sparked enthusiasm from its backers, starting with then-Gov. Scott Walker, and opprobrium from critics who questioned the Taiwan-based electronics manufacturer’s credibility, the record state largesse employed to woo the company, low employee morale, broken promises and potential environmental damage from the proposed facility.

    Homeowners whose properties were condemned and purchased by the town of Mount Pleasant in Racine County, where the plant is being built, as well as travelers on Interstate 94 inconvenienced by extensive construction to accommodate delivery trucks to the Foxconn site weren’t too happy either. 

    Today’s anniversary has so far passed with little fanfare, except from one high-placed skeptic, state Rep. Gordon Hintz (D-Oshkosh). On Thursday, Hintz, the Assembly Democratic leader, put out a list contrasting the company’s initial promises with what has since emerged in statements and news reports about the project.

    “What was originally proposed, passed in enabling legislation, and signed into contract is a project that no longer exists by Foxconn’s own admission,” Hintz said in a statement. “After two years of uncertainty, the reality is we still have very little idea of what is going to take place, what Foxconn is going to be manufacturing, and whether it’s remotely viable in the current market.”

    Hintz’s backhanded birthday greeting included a comparison chart on the project with these contrasts between promises then and now:

    • Facility’s product: Original, Gen 10.5 flat screens; now, Gen 6 flat screens (that followed by a skeptical trio of question marks).
    • Investment: Original, $10 billion; now, “unknown” Hintz asserted, but attributing to “industry experts” the estimate that a Gen 6 facility’s cost would top out at $2.5 billion.
    • Jobs: Original, 13,000; now, 1,500 — although Hintz noted in a footnote that the latter projection is “only according to Foxconn” and hasn’t been assessed independently.
    • Plant square footage: Original, 20 million; now 1.1 million.
    • Innovation centers promised: Originally, in Green Bay, Eau Claire, Milwaukee, Racine, and Madison; now, “currently empty.”
    • Types of workers: Then, 75% hourly assembly line workers and 25% engineers; now, 90% engineers and 10% assembly line. Hintz attributed that latter forecast to an interview that Foxconn executive Louis Woo gave to the Racine Journal Times last August.

    Foxconn did not respond to the Wisconsin Examiner‘s request for comment.

     

    Erik Gunn
    Senior Reporter Erik Gunn reports and writes on work and the economy, along with related subjects, for the Wisconsin Examiner. He spent 24 years as a freelance writer for Milwaukee Magazine, Isthmus, The Progressive, BNA Inc., and other publications, winning awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, beat coverage, business writing, and commentary. An East Coast native, he previously covered labor for The Milwaukee Journal after reporting for newspapers in upstate New York and northern Illinois. He's a graduate of Beloit College (English Comp.) and the Columbia School of Journalism. Off hours he is the Examiner's resident Springsteen and Jackson Browne fanboy and model railroad nerd.

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