One-third of Foxconn site prepped, but training challenge remains

Project on track for vertical construction beginning Sept. 1

Gov. Scott Walker talks with Adam Jelen during a press event at the Foxconn site in Mount Pleasant.

Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:11 pm

Crews have moved 2 million cubic yards of dirt at the site of Foxconn Technology Group’s planned LCD manufacturing campus, but the top Gilbane executive overseeing the work says the project still faces a challenge in training enough workers in skilled trades to match its massive scale.

Gov. Scott Walker talks with Adam Jelen during a press event at the Foxconn site in Mount Pleasant.

“The basic blocking and tackling of moving the dirt, building the multi-purpose facility, preparing for the next phases of major manufacturing fabrication facilities, I think is on track,” said Adam Jelen, senior vice president at Gilbane. “Where the challenge lies is when you get to the later trades.”

M+WǀGilbane and Foxconn have broken the nearly 800-acre project area into 42 quadrants and dedicated one to training new workers for the project. Gov. Scott Walker visited the site Friday and met with nearly a dozen people training as heavy equipment operators for work on their first construction job.

“The beauty of it is this scale allows you to do something special. Without this scale you probably couldn’t allocate (space), you couldn’t get enough energy to do this,” Jelen said. “If we don’t take this opportunity and seize the opportunity, shame on us for not making a difference.”

Jelen said the training emphasis will shift later this year and early in 2019 toward mechanical, electrical and plumbing areas, as well as other specific skills unique to the Foxconn project.

He said the Foxconn project will require specialized skills in welding, pipefitting and the installation of cleanrooms.

“We need to focus on that training way out in front so that we get there we can do this with a steady hand … versus hitting this flat-footed, not making a difference and just building another facility,” Jelen said.

“That’s where the challenge and opportunity lies,” he said. “If not, we are going to be looking at outside talent, both nationally and globally, that will have to do that or to supplement that.”

Gov. Scott Walker operates construction equipment in a training area at the Foxconn site.

Foxconn and Gilbane set a target of having 70 percent of work hours completed by Wisconsin residents, with an emphasis on those living in Racine County. About 80 percent of the excavation workforce and 90 percent of the first building’s workforce will be from Wisconsin.

The project is expected to create up to 10,000 construction jobs eventually. Jelen said that including trucking, there are currently about 300 people working on the project, with 150 pieces of equipment on site and 140 trucks hauling material away.

The 2 million cubic yards of material already removed represent 40 percent of the 5 million that will eventually be removed, although Jelen described the work as one-third complete.

“We’re directly on track where we wanted to be on site and in fact, we’re making great progress to spread the work out through the course of the job so we have a level workforce,” he said. “It’s a lot safer, because this is a logistical mastermind of a project.”

Crews have moved 2 million cubic yards of dirt at the Foxconn site.

Foundations are currently being poured for the first building on the site, a 120,000-square-foot multi-purpose facility that will serve as a construction office, along with a number of other uses for Foxconn. Jelen said vertical construction on the building will begin around Sept. 1.

Plans call for work to begin on the first phase of LCD screen fabrication facilities by the second quarter of 2019.

“That’s really what we’re trying to prepare for is making sure we are set to go with the advanced display technologies as the weather breaks next year,” Jelen said. “That’s what we are on track for.”

Plans presented to contractors in July and August show a fabrication facility and support operations, including an American Transmission Co. substation, as part of the first phase of facilities located on the northern half of the current project area. The projected timeline shows work on the facility’s superstructure would begin in October 2019, with the first production line starting in October 2020 and completion by June 2022.

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Arthur covers banking and finance and the economy at BizTimes while also leading special projects as an associate editor. He also spent five years covering manufacturing at BizTimes. He previously was managing editor at The Waukesha Freeman. He is a graduate of Carroll University and did graduate coursework at Marquette. A native of southeastern Wisconsin, he is also a nationally certified gymnastics judge and enjoys golf on the weekends.

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