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As Foxconn changes Wisconsin plans, job promises fall short

Robert Channick, Chicago Tribune on

Published in Business News

Mark Hogan, CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., which oversaw the Foxconn deal, said Tuesday that if the project scales down and fails to meet its target employment goals, taxpayers will be protected.

"WEDC's performance-based contract with Foxconn provides the company the flexibility to make these business decisions, and at the same time, protects Wisconsin's taxpayers," Hogan said in a statement. "As has been reported, Foxconn will not qualify for tax credits until, at the earliest, 2020, and then only if the company meets its annual job creation and capital investment requirements."

That however, does not reflect other significant costs already incurred, like the $50 million that Mount Pleasant has committed to obtain more than 1,000 acres for the project, or the $300 million in infrastructure improvements undertaken by the village and county.

For Case Western's Helper, the former chief economist at the U.S. Department of Commerce during the Obama administration, a shift to higher-paying research and development jobs would essentially put Foxconn's target goal of 13,000 employees out of reach.

"I've never heard of an R&D lab with 13,000 people," Helper said.

Beyond the unwieldy scale of the project, luring large numbers of engineers to southeastern Wisconsin would be a challenge, given competing opportunities available in more fertile tech climates, she said.

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"You move to Silicon Valley, that job doesn't work out, there's hundreds of other employers that conceivably you could go to," Helper said. "But you go to Mount Pleasant, Wis., and put down roots, what's the next job for you?"

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