Foxconn Technology Group plans to locate more than 500 employees in the 611 Building on East Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee, company executives said Friday at a ceremony designating the building as its North American headquarters.
Foxconn plans to issue a request for proposals in the coming weeks to seek contractors to help renovate the seven-story building. In February, the company announced it would buy the building from Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co.
Terms of the deal have not been disclosed, but Northwestern Mutual officials did turn over keys to Foxconn during the event Friday, commemorating the closing of the property sale. Foxconn officials also did not specify how much they plan to invest in the facility.
Foxconn can receive tax credits for creating jobs in Milwaukee, with some wage exceptions, so long as the positions benefit operations in Mount Pleasant. The company could bring corporate jobs to Wisconsin from other parts of North America, said Louis Woo, special assistant to Foxconn chairman Terry Gou.
“It’s very possible, especially for marketing and sales,” Woo said. “We would focus on building a stronger corporate team here in Milwaukee.”
The company is eligible for $1.5 billion in payroll tax credits and another $1.35 billion in credits for capital expenditures. Capital investment in the 611 Building would not count towards the $10 billion Foxconn needs to spend to max out its tax credits and $150 million sales tax exemption.
When the deal was announced earlier this year, Foxconn said the building would be its Wisconsin headquarters and would also include an innovation center to work with startups and other companies. The company is now calling the building its North American headquarters and Louis Woo, special assistant to Foxconn chairman Terry Gou, said additional announcements in the coming months about the innovation center “would add more substance to that aspiration.”
Woo, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett and Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton also joked during the ceremony about other aspirations for Foxconn, including an office tower on the site of the 611 Building, which includes a parking lot south of the building.
During his remarks, Barrett pointed to a banner showing the Milwaukee skyline and suggested it would make sense for the company to extend the building closer to the height of the 833 East building nearby.
“We have the capacity to do even more here, so we would be willing and anxious to work with you about that,” Barrett said.
As Barrett finished his speech, Woo joined the mayor at the podium.
“The only thing he pointed out that was wrong was the height of our building. It should not be here. It should be all the way up here,” Woo said, pointing closer to the height of the U.S. Bank building.
Asked afterwards if those jokes were aspirational or if the company had specific future building plans, Woo said it is a goal, but the current building is also a good fit. He did note the parking lot adjacent to the building gives Foxconn options.
“There is plenty of opportunity for us to redevelop this place,” he said.
Later he added he would like to see a skyscraper.
“I don’t think there is anything stopping us, the sky is really the limit,” he said.
Despite the joking, Barrett and Hamilton also sought to convey the message that Foxconn’s efforts need to benefit the entire city.
“As great as we are doing, there are too many people in this city that live in poverty still,” Barrett said.
He said he welcomes the company’s presence in the city and hopes to partner with Foxconn in creating jobs to support its presence.
“If we don’t have a very intentional way to connect those people to the opportunities that are being provided right now, then we’ll miss the boat,” Hamilton said.
Asked how Foxconn would connect to Milwaukee’s lower income neighborhoods, Woo said the company needs to focus on creating a high tech industry and acknowledged many of the 13,000 jobs it plans to create would be for “knowledge workers.” He added the company’s job creation would have a multiplier effect and would support indirect jobs.
“There is what I would call a certain social division of labor,” Woo said. “As a business entity we do what we do best, so we certainly continue to bring in the talent. Other people, in order to make sure they support this pool of talent, they will have to build out housing and restaurants and whatever is needed, so in that sense we will be needing all kind of people, all kind of help, to make sure the ecosystem works.”
Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele reminded ceremony attendees the chance to have a wider benefit from Foxconn won’t happen on its own.
“Opportunity goes as far as we want to take it,” he said, adding Foxconn presents a chance for state and Milwaukee leaders “to fundamentally reset a partnership.”
At one point Foxconn did have plans for more jobs in Milwaukee that could have directly benefited residents across a wider spectrum. According to emails recently released by the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., Foxconn was planning to establish temporary assembly operations by the start of this year in leased space at Rockwell Automation’s Walker’s Point headquarters, potentially creating 3,000 jobs.
Those plans, detailed in August 2017 emails by WEDC officials, never came to fruition. A Foxconn spokesman said the combination of a leased facility in Mount Pleasant, acquiring the 611 Building and other factors eliminated the need. Foxconn is using the Mount Pleasant facility near Highway 20 for experimental production.