Foxconn official suggests company’s $10 billion investment will grow

Foxconn’s director of U.S. initiatives, Alan Yeung, suggests the company’s initial $10 billion investment in Racine County will grow.

He said yesterday the company’s planned $10 billion investment is going into just “a fraction” of the 128 million square-foot Mount Pleasant development.

“It’s probably going to take more than $10 billion in terms of investment,” he said yesterday at the Wisconsin Idea Smart Future Summit at UW-Parkside in Kenosha.

“The $10 billion is going into a fraction of the landmass that we show,” he said. “How much more it’s going to take, we’ll tell in due course.”

After formally announcing more details of Foxconn’s “Smart Cities, Smart Futures” competition, Yeung also hinted that Foxconn is looking at the solar energy industry for opportunities.

He also said solar energy and renewable energy in general “is something of interest to us,” pointing out that the per-module cost for solar panels has dropped significantly several times in the past 40 years or so.

Citing industry data from between 1976 and 1985, Yeung says the cost dropped by 90 percent in that period.

“That’s phenomenal,” he said.

Between 1985 and 2006, he says the cost dropped by about half. And since 2010, he says it’s gone down by another 90 percent.

“Solar energy is now very competitive, when compared to the other mix of energy choices,” he said. “Right now, solar is now almost in the mainstream.”

This follows a greater trend for electronics industries in general, he says, for which prices are roughly halved every few years. Companies that fail to stay agile and competitive get eliminated, Yeung noted.

“The names that used to be there are no longer there, because they are maybe one or two steps behind,” he said. “We need to be nimble, we need to be cost-competitive, we need to be fast.”

He says the solar numbers tell a story of massive improvement, as shipment volume has largely grown as costs have fallen.

“We want to be bold; we want to be actually big,” he said, echoing the words of Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave from earlier in the day. “When we actually are able to prove the concept, we scale big, and we scale fast.”

Racine’s county executive and mayor presented differing perspectives on how to pursue a smart city at the UW-Parkside event. 

Jonathan Delagrave, Racine County executive, says it’s time to “go big, or go bold” to take advantage of the “incredible, incredible opportunity in front of us.” 

He added: “Start eating the apple maybe in two bites, rather than smaller bites.” 

In contrast, Racine Mayor Cory Mason says it’s best to pick just a few areas of improvement, listing challenges like transportation, workforce and water. 

“I think if we try to do all of them all at once, we might find ourselves in a position where we’re not succeeding at as many of them as we would like,” he said. “Focus on two or three things and do them well.” 

Mason also noted that existing infrastructure like light poles and fiber optic cable lend themselves to smart city design, even though they weren’t originally intended for that purpose. 

“One thing to focus on is we’re not starting from zero in this process, believe it or not… some of this stuff already exists, so even though the concept might be new, give yourself a little bit of credit,” he said. “You probably have some assets in place that would allow your city or municipality or the region to build onto this model.” 

Debbie Ford, UW-Parkside Chancellor, says “we are ready to embrace the opportunities that lie ahead of us.” 

“When I think about this, the first thing that comes to mind is, we are ready,” she said at the Kenosha summit. 

Though she admitted she and others weren’t certain at first of what a smart city really is, she says she viewed the gathering of more than 200 interested people as “an opportunity for us to learn together and to really create through collaboration.” 

As part of the event, small-group discussions were held at each table, meant to foster new ideas in the attendees, who represented universities and businesses from across Wisconsin. 

This was the second in a series of UW System Wisconsin Idea Summits, created by UW System President Ray Cross. The first, focused on the dairy industry, gave rise to the Dairy Task Force 2.0, a joint effort between the UW System and the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection to study and report on the state’s dairy industry. 

Dr. Joseph Kershner, provost for the Medical College of Wisconsin, spoke on the importance of simulations in training medical professionals, noting the aviation field has been benefiting from risk-free practice for decades. 

He also said MCW is “not that far behind” UW-Madison in terms of research in biotech and biomedicine, with over $220 million of research expenditures a year overall. 

“Partnering with many of the institutions that are in the room, we have an important engine for driving that smart technology,” he said. 

Listen to key audio recordings from the event below.

— Education Panel:

Moderator: Tim Mahone, Mahone Strategies

Panelists: Bryan Albrecht, Gateway Technical College president; Debbie Ford, UW-Parkside chancellor; Dr. Joseph Kerschner, Medical College of Wisconsin provost; Vicki Martin, MATC president; Mark Mone, UWM chancellor; John Swallow, Carthage College president

— Government Panel:

Moderator: Jeff Mayers,

Panelists: Jonathan Delagrave, Racine County executive; Tyson Fettes, Racine County register of deeds; Jeff Labahn, director of community development for the city of Kenosha; Cory Mason, Racine Mayor; Martin Lacock, chief information officer for Kenosha County

— Discussion on Johnson Controls Hall of Fame Village:

Kimberly Kane, president and founder of Kane Communications Group with Lisa Roy, vice president of integration & commercial operations, NA Building Technologies & Solutions, Johnson Controls

— Announcement of Smart Cities, Smart Futures Competition:

Alan Yeung, director of U.S. Strategic Initiatives, Foxconn Technology Group

–By Alex Moe