A year after the company’s ‘innovation centers’ were found empty, they’re still empty.
But outside of that? Not so much.
So-called “innovation centers” scattered throughout the state remain empty, according to tech news site The Verge, which last weekend released a one-year follow-up to an investigation into Foxconn’s presence in Wisconsin. Though the company challenged The Verge’s reporting last year that the centers were empty, it never provided a formal statement or correction as to what the site allegedly got wrong.
Buildings that Foxconn said would become technology hubs in Green Bay, Eau Claire, Madison, Milwaukee, and Racine, have had little to no activity, apart from permits being taken out for small-scale renovations in Racine, Green Bay, and Milwaukee, The Verge reported.
In Green Bay, those permits cover “a few offices,” collaborative and training space, and restrooms, Kevin Vonck, Green Bay’s development director, wrote in an email to UpNorthNews. The permits are for a building occupancy of 49 people, Vonck said. Foxconn, which purchased the building in 2018, originally said 200 people would work there.
Even with scaled-back plans, there’s no evidence Foxconn has actually done anything with its permits.
“It does not appear as though construction has started, given that we do not have any current inspection records,” Vonck wrote.
The situation is similar in Eau Claire, where at a news conference in July 2018 Foxconn officials announced a much-heralded plan to create 150 high-tech jobs by opening a downtown innovation center called Foxconn Place Chippewa Valley. The project was supposed to open in 2019 at two sites, the Haymarket Landing building — a prime new site downtown — and the nearby former Wells Fargo building.
Nearly two years later, the Haymarket site is empty and Foxconn backed out of its plans at the former bank building, said the owner of that site, Eau Claire-based JCap Real Estate.
The city’s economic development manager, Aaron White, said Foxconn received permits early last summer for more than $2 million at the Haymarket landing site and did some initial work there. But nothing has happened since, he said, and the city has had no recent contact with the company.
“Frustrated is a good word for it,” Eau Claire City Council member Emily Berge said of the failure of Foxconn plans to materialize. “It never seemed like a serious thing. We just have this empty space in one of our main downtown buildings. Nothing ever happened.”
Racine and Madison’s city spokespeople did not respond to a request for comment on the innovation centers there. Foxconn did not respond to an inquiry on the centers’ status.
Some have described the Foxconn projects as an election-year ploy intended to help the re-election efforts of ex-Gov. Scott Walker, who lost to Tony Evers in the race for governor in the November 2018 election.
The ever-shrinking main project in Mount Pleasant, which has gone from a promised 13,000 employees in a 20-million-square-foot LCD manufacturing facility to 1,500 employees in a one-million-square-foot factory, continues to be a blemish on Walker’s record. In January, the Marquette Law School Poll found that only 35 percent of Wisconsinites think the Foxconn deal “will be worth the money.”
Manufacturing in Mount Pleasant, where the current construction is already worth more than half a billion dollars, could begin as soon as next month. Foxconn will reportedly make ventilators to help with the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s gotten so bad that President Donald Trump, who had a hand in luring the company to Wisconsin and once proclaimed the project “the Eighth Wonder of the World,” has stopped mentioning the development altogether. It used to be a mainstay topic at his rallies, even outside of Wisconsin.
It’s unclear at this point if Foxconn will receive any tax credits, as its project barely resembles what was agreed to in the original 2017 contract. The company requested to revise its contract with the state, but has repeatedly ignored requests for proposed revisions, according to documents published in a December report from The Verge.
Foxconn did have a late-2019 hiring rush, adding about 400 employees, comprising about 70 percent of its permanent Wisconsin workforce, according to BizTimes.
UpNorthNews reporter Julian Emerson contributed to this report.