Speaking to a regional audience at the Chicago Federal Reserve Monday, Foxconn Technology Group executive Louis Woo spent a good deal of time clearing up misconceptions about the Taiwanese company's planned $10 billion campus in Mount Pleasant.
People say Foxconn is getting a $4.5 billion handout from Wisconsin, Woo said at the Summit on Regional Competitiveness, put on by the Chicago Fed and the Alliance for Regional Development. But Foxconn has already invested $200 million in the buildout of its first building on the new Mount Pleasant campus and the renovation of its North American headquarters in downtown Milwaukee.
“We have not had one dime from the State of Wisconsin,” said Woo, special assistant to Foxconn chairman Terry Gou. “The agreement with the State of Wisconsin is we would be reimbursed to hire the people. It’s not a handout. This basically is a performance-based subsidy.”
Woo said the workers Foxconn is seeking to rapidly hire are about 75 percent knowledge workers and 25 percent assembly line workers.
“I think a lot of people may have misunderstood that because we are basically a manufacturer, that we would be hiring mostly assembly line workers,” he said.
The Foxconn executive, who was interviewed onstage by Marquette University president Michael Lovell, praised the abundant talent pool in Wisconsin and the region. He said the ripple effect will be felt across state lines, including through the development of a robust supply chain.
“At least in Asia, every one job we create, there will be another four jobs in the supply chain,” Woo said. “The supply chain would follow us to come to Wisconsin, but that would most likely be a year later after our project is complete.”
Asked how the gathered business professionals could help Foxconn, Woo encouraged them to vote.
“I think it’s too late for the elections, but if you guys haven’t voted, you should go out and vote…for people who are trying to make a difference in Wisconsin,” Woo said. “That would certainly be helpful. When there is economic development, I think that’s what the Alliance is all about. Normally, I would ask you guys to just go out and tell the Foxconn story and tell them that we are not an evil empire. We want to do good things.”
Lovell also asked Woo about any cultural differences he’s experienced between Taiwan and Wisconsin. He hesitated to answer the question, then said: “I was a little bit taken aback by how divisive our society becomes. I would imagine a company like Foxconn would want to create 13,000 high-paying knowledge jobs in Wisconsin with $10 billion invested in next five to 10 years, I would imagine people would roll out the red carpet.”
Regarding the change in the size of LCD screens Foxconn plans to manufacture at its massive campus, Woo said it wasn’t that impactful.
“People ask me, ‘Why not generation 8, why not generation 9, why not 10.5? Why 6? Keep in mind, the larger the number does not mean the better it is,” he said.
And more than once, Woo expressed his desire for Foxconn’s “Wisconn Valley” to surpass the Silicon Valley and Boston Corridor in both living and working conditions.
“In terms of talent, given the tight labor market, we are looking for talent all over the place and I see that commuter train all the way from Chicago to the Wisconn Valley Science and Technology Park. We see we’ll have to reach out and go beyond Wisconsin,” he said.