DOA secretary seeks to take attention away from Foxconn, won’t confirm whether state officials are aware of what the company will manufacture.
Wisconsin Department of Administration Secretary Joel Brennan on Tuesday repeatedly refused to answer questions about whether the state is aware of what Foxconn will be manufacturing at its Mount Pleasant factory following a drastic renegotiation of the company’s contract with the state.
But Brennan appeared unconcerned as he sought to reframe the Foxconn development—a subject of international attention—as “a tactic” in Gov. Tony Evers’ broader economic strategy. Foxconn is just one project among dozens in the state, Brennan said, rather than the crown jewel former Gov. Scott Walker and President Donald Trump regarded it as.
“Under the previous administration … Foxconn became the economic strategy,” Brennan said during a virtual luncheon hosted by the Milwaukee Press Club and WisPolitics. “It was about Foxconn, not only in Racine County, but Foxconn in Milwaukee and Madison and Eau Claire and Green Bay. Most of those things never materialized at this point.”
Brennan continued, “Gov. Evers has a 72-county economic development strategy, investments that we need to make overall. Foxconn’s a tactic, in that we’re going to continue to spend enough time on it.”
The Taiwanese tech giant was initially on the hook for creating an LCD screen megafactory that would employ 13,000 people; in exchange, the state was to give Foxconn nearly $3 billion in tax credits. Gov. Tony Evers’ administration reworked the contract this spring, well after it became clear Foxconn had abandoned its original 2017 plans, which also included a constellation of failed “innovation centers” around the state and an unfulfilled research partnership with UW-Madison.
The new deal requires the company to employ about 1,500 people in exchange for up to $80 million in tax credits; there is no requirement for what the factory will manufacture.
“I think they’re already doing work in the data infrastructure area,” Brennan said, likely in reference to the now-completed glass dome that allegedly houses a data center. But he would not confirm anything further, only saying Foxconn has “had discussions around other contract manufacturing that they can do with other partners.”
Foxconn and Fisker, an electric vehicle startup, last month announced they have entered an agreement for the former to manufacture the vehicles beginning in 2023. Neither company would say whether the Mount Pleasant site was up for consideration. Bloomberg reported last November that Foxconn’s Wisconsin factory was also set to manufacture server components for Google.
Asked for comment, Foxconn issued a statement identical to one it released last month regarding the Fisker deal.
“To date Foxconn has invested over $900 million in Wisconsin,” the company said. “This presence has attracted the attention of other businesses and investors who share our vision for a park that can sustain future business and community development.”