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Foxconn Promised 13,000 Jobs To Wisconsin. Where Are They?

Jan 13, 2020
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Two and a half years ago, President Trump boasted of a plan to build a huge high-tech manufacturing plant in Wisconsin. It was for Taiwan-based electronics giant Foxconn. They originally promised up to 13,000 new jobs, but it has not gone as planned. Here's Chuck Quirmbach of member station WUWM in Milwaukee.

CHUCK QUIRMBACH, BYLINE: It was at a White House ceremony in July of 2017 that a beaming Donald Trump announced that Foxconn was coming to Wisconsin.

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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Investing many, many billions of dollars right here in America and creating thousands of jobs. And I mean American jobs - that's what we want.

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QUIRMBACH: Wisconsin's then-governor, Republican Scott Walker, led efforts to offer the company an enormous subsidy package topping $3 billion, the biggest state incentive for a foreign company. Local governments promised to sweeten that deal. But it's been a largely bumpy ride ever since. First, Foxconn reduced the size of the LCD display panels it says it's going to build here, meaning fewer jobs. In fact, in 2018, it didn't meet the threshold to qualify for state money.

That gets us to last winter. When Foxconn said it might not build a factory here after all, President Trump got the company to do a quick about-face.

I'm at the edge of the Foxconn complex in Racine County, near Milwaukee. A huge 1-million-square-foot advanced manufacturing factory is now enclosed and may be ready to go this year. Construction crews are also working on two more buildings, and Foxconn says workers are in another facility completed last year. It's a busy spot, but Kim Mahoney, who co-owns the last home next to the project, says it's still not what Foxconn pledged.

KIM MAHONEY: They're not creating the jobs that they promised. And Racine has lost tons of manufacturing jobs over the last 30 years, and that's what the draw was, was to bring those manufacturing jobs back to southeastern Wisconsin. And that's not happening, it doesn't appear.

QUIRMBACH: Foxconn did hold a series of hiring fairs last fall, and Alexander Mencia came to the downtown Milwaukee office to apply for a job.

ALEXANDER MENCIA: At this point - I just graduated - (laughter) I just need a job just to start my career. And if they're willing to give me the opportunity, definitely, you know?

QUIRMBACH: Last month, Foxconn invited the news media to what was billed as an employee holiday party at a top Milwaukee hotel. There was Christmas music, a Santa Claus and even Foxconn founder Terry Gou, who stepped away from company leadership last year. He told the crowd that he'd met with President Trump at the White House the night before.

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TERRY GOU: Every time he see me, he look at me - say, Terry, bring more jobs to go to the United States, bring more jobs to go to Wisconsin.

QUIRMBACH: And then Gou made this pledge.

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GOU: As the founder of this company, I'm committed to Wisconsin, to the United States.

QUIRMBACH: Even as Gou was welcomed, discord was bubbling below the surface. Emails published by the website The Verge showed that, for months, Wisconsin's Democratic Governor Tony Evers had been encouraging Foxconn to revise its state contract to better reflect what appears to be a downsized manufacturing operation. A top Evers deputy, Joel Brennan, says the company is well behind schedule in investment and hiring.

JOEL BRENNAN: Things like supply chain and the number of manufacturing jobs that are associated with this project versus the original project and what this is going to mean for state taxpayers and the payoff for state taxpayers over the next 20 or 25 years.

QUIRMBACH: Foxconn denied a request for an interview, but in a written statement, Foxconn Technology Group says Foxconn will make business and hiring decisions based on timing that positions the company and future generations for long-term success. Support for the Foxconn deal here among Republican leaders remains high, even as many Democrats question the arrangement.

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QUIRMBACH: At a tavern near Foxconn's Racine County property, customer Jim Goslein says he understands the state's tougher stance, but he thinks this is now largely about whether disappointment in the company could hurt President Trump's bid to again carry Wisconsin.

JIM GOSLEIN: I think if Trump wants to have Wisconsin behind him again, that he would really kind of put his foot on the accelerator, so to speak, with Foxconn.

QUIRMBACH: The president is scheduled to campaign in Wisconsin tomorrow.

For NPR News, I'm Chuck Quirmbach in Milwaukee. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.