Foxconn rep envisions reversal of brain drain in years to come

The director of U.S. strategic initiatives for Foxconn envisions a reversal of the “brain drain” trend as the company’s planned manufacturing hub takes shape in southeastern Wisconsin.

Alan Yeung spoke to attendees of the Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce Business Day in Madison yesterday, addressing concerns about the cost of labor rising in coming years.

He says he was pressed on this issue at a Wisconsin Technology Council event in Beloit, where an attendee noted difficulty with hiring workers like developers, programmers and project managers due to the low unemployment rate. Yeung was asked if Foxconn coming to the state would crowd out local businesses and lead to higher labor costs.

“My answer to that is, I hope not. I hope we actually work together, collectively work to expand the workforce,” Yeung said.

Yeung got an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering from UW-Madison in 1984, and went on to get a doctorate in chemical engineering from Stanford University.

He heads up the “Flying Eagle” project — the name for the Foxconn development — and was part of the team that evaluated possible options for its location.

He said many who come through Wisconsin’s education systems end up leaving the state to find work and never end up returning.

“I think that trend, the so-called brain drain, is going to stop,” he said. “It’s going to reverse itself, because I think this is going to be a great place to work, a great place to raise a family.”

This brain drain concept has been challenged in a study from UW Extension researchers, which found the majority of highly educated residents who go to college in Wisconsin tend to stay.

Yeung also addressed concerns on the employee end, saying Wisconsin workers should be happy, not wary, about the kinds of jobs Foxconn will provide.

“Workers should be happy, because what we offer them in the future will not only be great, family-supporting jobs, but these will be jobs that will be working with other people, working with machines, robotics and automation,” Yeung said. “It will be meaningful — it will actually be intellectually challenging as opposed to mundane, repetitive jobs.”

He explained the company’s choice to come to the United States by looking ahead, to a future dominated by two superpowers.

“We believe in the year 2030, the world economy is really based on two countries: The United States, and China,” he said. “Therefore, we need to be in the U.S., not just for sales and marketing and so forth, but for manufacturing.”

Yeung took one question from the audience. When asked about the supply chain for manufacturing components, he said “our plan is to bring the entire supply chain back to the United States.”

“When we say bring, we actually mean we work with local partners here to actually create and force the capability if we can,” he said. “Also we would bring in other companies who would like to come and invest in the U.S., and I think both options are open.”

See the UW Extension study challenging the brain drain concept here:

–By Alex Moe