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As Foxconn changes Wisconsin plans, job promises fall short

Robert Channick, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

A manufacturing renaissance

The Foxconn deal, announced in July 2017, was championed by President Donald Trump and then-Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker as a way to create thousands of new manufacturing jobs in the U.S. The company was planning to make large-screen TVs, staffing up over time and turning the region into the "electronics manufacturing capital of North America," according to county executives.

It would join prominent businesses like the massive new headquarters of packaging supplies distributor Uline and Amazon's giant fulfillment center in an area better known for cheese shops and bratwurst.

The deal immediately faced skeptics. Some thought the nearly $4 billion in state and local incentives -- among the largest ever offered to a foreign manufacturer -- made the deal too pricey to pay off, while others questioned whether Foxconn would follow through, based on several previous projects elsewhere that had fizzled out.

Recent flip-flops by executives have only fueled the doubt, but the company is reaffirming its commitment to the project.

"Foxconn is continuing its Wisconsin project," the company said in a statement. "The company remains committed to its long-term investment and creating 13,000 jobs in Wisconsin."

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To be sure, the main campus, dubbed Wisconn Valley Science and Technology Park -- think Silicon Valley, but near Kenosha -- has begun sprouting up in the bucolic village 30 miles south of Milwaukee and 60 miles north of Chicago in Racine County.

It is unclear, though, how much of the facility will be devoted to manufacturing. The company has given multiple statements in recent weeks saying that engineers may account for anywhere from two-thirds to 90 percent of staffing -- a far different mix than the blue-collar manufacturing haven originally envisioned.

The recent doubts kicked off late in January when Foxconn Chief Executive Terry Gou told Reuters that his company was rethinking its commitment to the project.

"In terms of TV, we have no place in the U.S.," he was quoted as saying. "We can't compete." He said that the Wisconsin plant would become more of a research hub.

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