Last updated on July 2nd, 2019 at 09:11 pm
A lot has changed in the year since Foxconn Technology Group announced the selection of Mount Pleasant as the home for its planned $10 billion LCD manufacturing campus.
Millions of cubic yards of dirt have been moved, miles and miles of roadway have been torn up and the company’s first building has emerged from the ground. Foxconn has also changed its plans to allow more flexibility in deciding which products to produce in Wisconsin.
Outside of Mount Pleasant, Foxconn has announced its North American headquarters in Milwaukee; a $100 million venture capital fund with Johnson Controls International plc, Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance Co. and Advocate Aurora Health Inc.; a smart cities contest for Wisconsin college students; and plans for a series of innovation centers around the state, in Green Bay, Eau Claire and downtown Racine.
Thousands of acres of land in Mount Pleasant have been acquired by the village, with hundreds already transferred to Foxconn. The site is in the southern portion of Racine County, just north of the Kenosha County line.
At the same time, lawsuits have been filed over the acquisition of land and a fine has been levied over storm water discharge
The only thing that seems not to have changed is public views of the Foxconn project. In polling by Marquette University Law School, a majority of respondents have consistently said the project will improve the economy in the greater Milwaukee area and a plurality have said the state is paying too much.
The one trend in polling is a slight increase in the number of respondents throughout the state who expect businesses near them to benefit from Foxconn, although a majority do not expect to see a benefit in their area.
Here’s an update on some of the project’s major components in southeastern Wisconsin:
There is no more obvious reminder of Foxconn’s arrival in Wisconsin than the ongoing construction to widen I-94 in Racine County. With the Foxconn deal in place, the project shot to the top of the state’s road construction priority list after being delayed for years.
In June, Wisconsin received a $160 million grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation to help fund the project. The grant was enough to allow the state to move ahead with $252 million in bonding included in the Foxconn legislation, but it was less than the $246 million Wisconsin officials requested. State officials said the remaining funds would come from cash balances created by a favorable market for the state’s transportation bonds.
Plans call for all lanes of I-94 to be open by Memorial Day 2020, with full completion by 2021.
Crews had been moving dirt at the Foxconn site for nearly two months by the time President Donald Trump came to Mount Pleasant in late June for a ceremonial groundbreaking. In late April, local officials made a point of highlighting the arrival of construction equipment at the site, pointing out it was just one year from the first meetings at the White House between Gov. Scott Walker and Foxconn chairman Terry Gou.
Since the beginning of construction, crews have moved 3.5 million cubic yards of dirt to prepare the site. Construction is well underway on a 120,000-square-foot multi-purpose building that will serve as construction offices during construction before transitioning to other uses for Foxconn. Crews have also begun putting the structural fill and aggregate in place for the first LCD fabrication facilities, with foundations to be poured in the second quarter of next year.
There are around 400 people working on the site daily, plus another 150 trucks hauling aggregate to the site. When construction begins on the fabrication facilities next year, the number of workers on site is expected to reach into the thousands.
While officials say the project is on schedule, not everything has been smooth sailing. In mid-October, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources fined Foxconn’s Wisconsin subsidiary $1,200 for failing to fully construct a storm water basin to contain heavy rains that caused flooding at the site over the Labor Day weekend.
Changing plans and hiring
One of the biggest changes in the Foxconn project came earlier this year when the company confirmed it planned to build a Generation 6 LCD fabrication facility instead of a Generation 10.5. The change allows the company to make smaller panels, giving it more flexibility in choosing which products to produce from the Wisconsin facility.
Critics have pointed to the changing plans as a sign the company is not really committed to the state and questioned whether Foxconn will meet its job and investment targets.
For its part, Foxconn has repeatedly said it is still committed to investing $10 billion and creating 13,000 jobs in the state. The company also set a target of hiring 3,000 veterans and launched a nationwide recruiting effort to reach that goal. Executives have toured the state as part of recruiting events at the state’s colleges and universities, and a series of job fairs were held over the past month.
Alan Yeung, Foxconn director of U.S. strategic initiatives, said in September the company planned to hire “a few hundred” employees in two or three months. He declined to say how many employees Foxconn had in Wisconsin. In June, the company had around 100.
Foxconn needs at least 260 full-time employees in the state at the end of the year to earn any of the $9.5 million in tax credits available to it this year. The company needs 1,040 to earn the full amount.
Another major development in the Foxconn project during 2018 has been the company’s plans for innovation centers around the state. One of the centers will be in downtown Milwaukee, where Foxconn is establishing its North American headquarters at the 611 Building on East Wisconsin Avenue. Other centers were announced in Green Bay and Eau Claire, and most recently the company announced it would buy One Main Centre in downtown Racine for a fourth innovation center.
The Milwaukee building is the only one on which Foxconn has closed its purchase through mid-October, but the company has issued requests for proposals to design firms to begin renovating the facilities.
The Racine center will serve as a hub for Foxconn’s Smart Cities initiative. Executives said the location would allow researchers to use the City of Racine to test new technologies in real-world situations.
Foxconn announced its Smart Cities-Smart Futures competition earlier this year for students, faculty and staff at Wisconsin higher education institutions. The company is offering $1 million in cash and prizes, including $200,000 available this year.
Foxconn has also announced a $100 million donation to the University of Wisconsin-Madison. And the company will contribute $25 million to a $100 million venture capital fund with Johnson Controls, Northwestern Mutual and Aurora.
Information is also emerging on how other Wisconsin companies can work with Foxconn, particularly those interested in acting as a supplier. Foxconn and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. partnered to hold a number of supply chain events throughout the fall.
Foxconn officials and consultants emphasized that the company wants to localize its supply chain whenever possible, but also added the relationships have to make business sense. Potential suppliers can go through Foxconn’s vendor readiness program, which rates companies based on core capabilities, quality and customer data and their focus on innovation.
The arrival of additional Foxconn suppliers from Asia is expected to come later in the construction process as the fabrication facilities are completed.