Project gets no love from President in recent Wisconsin visits
A great facility. Incredible. No plant like it. It’s right at the top. The Eighth Wonder of the World.
Long before his Tuesday night visit to Milwaukee, those were some of the words and phrases President Trump used over the past two-and-a-half years to describe the future Foxconn Technology Group campus in Mount Pleasant. He gushed over the original 2017 deal, playing up his role in it and leaning on it in his praise of former Gov. Scott Walker during the 2018 midterm election campaign.
But the President dedicated exactly zero words to the troubled development when he stopped in Milwaukee, just 30 miles north of the site, Tuesday night for a campaign rally — a 90-minute speech in which he instead covered a range of other topics including low-flow sinks, toilets and showers. He also didn’t mention Foxconn when he made an April 2019 campaign stop in Green Bay.
“We could assume that the reason he didn’t talk about it is because it is spiraling out of control,” said Mount Pleasant resident Kim Mahoney, who fought an eminent domain claim against her house in the Foxconn development area.
Liberal group Priorities Wisconsin pointed out in a Wednesday morning tweet that Foxconn was “notably absent” from Trump’s speech the night before.
Trump’s apparent abandonment of Foxconn during public appearances comes amid squabbles between Wisconsin and the Taiwanese technology company as it has failed so far to live up to its 2017 development agreement. The agreement stated the company would invest $10 billion in Mount Pleasant to build a “Generation 10.5” LCD plant that would create 13,000 jobs with a minimum average salary of $53,875. And the plant was to be 20 million square feet at “a minimal number,” Trump said in his remarks during a June 2018 groundbreaking ceremony.
Plans have since changed, with Foxconn now promising a one-million-square-foot “Gen 6” facility that would manufacture smaller LCD screens than originally proposed.
Trump briefly mentioned Foxconn in a wide-ranging Jan. 10 Fox News interview. “They spent a fortune. They built the most incredible plant I’ve ever seen,” he said. The factory isn’t finished, though. Vertical construction on the “Gen 6” facility began last August, and the company plans to have the factory up and running by May. A 120,000-square-foot “multipurpose building” currently stands as the only completed structure in the massive project area.
“They’re looking at 1,500 employees” for the factory, Gov. Tony Evers told CNBC last July.
That falls well short of the 1,820-job minimum established in the state’s contract with Foxconn, and even shorter of the 5,200-job goal. That means the company could miss out on tax credits promised in the state’s $4 billion-plus subsidy package for the project. It wouldn’t be the first time. The company missed out on its minimum hiring requirements of 260 jobs in 2018, forfeiting its tax credits in the process. Numbers for 2019 have yet to be revealed, but Foxconn told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel last month it was confident it would qualify for credits.
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Under the state contract, the company has until 2032 to hire a minimum of 10,400 workers, although the 13,000 overall goal remains. Last March, Foxconn proposed renegotiating the agreement, The Verge reported in December. But Foxconn has “refused by inaction” to propose revisions for the contract, Wisconsin Department of Administration Secretary Joel Brennan told the website.
“The project that they have right now is outside the bounds of the contract,” Brennan told The Verge.
And yet communities near the development have been experiencing an unmistakable Foxconn bump as development proposals flood in, with developers citing Foxconn as a draw to the area. Whatever jobs are ultimately brought could also go toward further reducing unemployment in Racine County, something the area has struggled with for years.
Shannon Jepson, a 48-year-old health care analyst from Union Grove, a village just west of the Foxconn project, told UpNorthNews outside Tuesday’s rally that she credited the development — and Trump’s involvement — with helping revitalize her village, which she described as a “desolate small town.”
“There have been three larger residential development proposals here in the last two years, and that wasn’t really happening before Foxconn,” Union Grove Village Administrator Michael Hawes wrote in an email Wednesday afternoon.
Statewide, Wisconsinites are less rosy about the deal. Just 35 percent of Marquette Law School Poll respondents said in a survey taken last week that state subsidies for Foxconn “will be worth the cost,” while 46 percent said “the project will cost more than it’s worth.” National media op-eds and reports are labeling the development as a “boondoggle.”
Mahoney said that while she is unsure how the debacle will affect Trump’s performance on a national level, she feels it could impact local elections when undecided residents ultimately enter the voting booths in November.
Trump’s campaign and Mount Pleasant Village President Dave DeGroot did not immediately respond Wednesday to requests for comment on Trump’s omission of Foxconn from his speech. Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave’s office said he was not able to provide comment.