WMC coalition to highlight Foxconn’s potential state impact

Terry Gou and Scott Walker look up as the Milwaukee Art Museum's Calatrava wings open.

Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce on Thursday announced the formation of a statewide coalition aimed at promoting the potential statewide impact of Foxconn’s plans for an LCD panel plant in Wisconsin and pushing lawmakers to approve $3 billion in tax incentives for the company.

Terry Gou and Scott Walker look up as the Milwaukee Art Museum’s Calatrava wings open.

The state’s chamber of commerce and manufacturers association said the group is made up of 146 business groups, local chambers, entrepreneurs, employers and workers who support Foxconn’s planned $10 billion investment in the state.

The announcement of the new coalition drew the approval of Foxconn, which issued a statement thanking “business leaders across Wisconsin for their support in bringing investment and innovation to the state.”

“Their commitment and vision are among the reasons Foxconn Technology Group has decided to build a state-of-the-art advanced display manufacturing campus in southeastern Wisconsin,” the statement said. “We value strong partnerships and look forward to joining with these hard-working businesses and entrepreneurs as we lay the groundwork for economic success together.”

Kurt Bauer, WMC president and chief executive officer, said “there is no reason the legislation should not receive broad bipartisan support.”

“This is an unprecedented investment in Wisconsin, and we hope legislators move quickly to approve the legislation that is a key part of attracting Foxconn to our state,” Bauer said.

But Democrats have not shown much support for the bill, with Sen. Tim Carpenter, D-Milwaukee, calling for a public hearing on the bill by a standing Senate committee. The Joint Finance Committee and the Assembly Committee on Jobs and the Economy have previously held public hearings.

“This is likely a once in a lifetime opportunity,” Carpenter said. “Over the past several months, too few people have had a chance to provide direct input on the development of this legislation and many people – legislators and the public included – have questions that need answering.”

The bill has already passed the state Assembly on a 59-30 vote, with three Democrats from the Kenosha and Racine area where the plant will likely be located voting for it. All three expressed their displeasure with parts of the legislation, but said they also wanted to bring jobs to the area near their district.

While the initial announcement of Foxconn’s investment was met with a lot of fanfare, the opposition to the bill and the deal reached by Gov. Scott Walker’s administration has steadily grown.

Opponents have voiced concerns about the size of the incentives, the length of time for a potential payback to the state, reduced environmental requirements for the project, the need for public transportation to get workers to the facility, challenges training enough workers, Foxconn’s history of not living up to large investment commitments and the potential for out-of-state workers to take many of the jobs.

Proponents of the deal argue Foxconn represents a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to bring a new industry to the state and country. They say the estimated 25 year payback, if the company creates 13,000 jobs and invests $10 billion, doesn’t capture other potential benefits from Foxconn choosing Wisconsin.

Scott Manley, WMC senior vice president of government relations, said WMC put the coalition together to demonstrate the potential statewide benefits to lawmakers.

“We believe that the ripple effect of this project through all corners of this state will be considerable,” he said, pointing out 41 local chambers from Kenosha to Superior signed on to be part of the new group.

Nearly 50 organizations have registered to lobby on the Assembly version of the bill, with 46 percent in favor of it, 23 percent opposed and 31 percent registering as other or undisclosed.

“It’s disappointing that there isn’t more bipartisan support for this,” Manley said.

While the new coalition’s efforts will be initially focused on pressing lawmakers to approve the package, Manley said the focus on highlighting potential opportunities for businesses once the project gets underway.

“There are just so many different facets of this project where Wisconsin is well positioned to be part of this supply chain,” he said.

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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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