Foxconn change of focus was ‘surprise’ to administration

DOA Secretary-designee Joel Brennan says Foxconn’s change of focus at its Wisconsin facility toward a research hub was a surprise despite being in weekly communication with senior leadership at the company.

When the company first unveiled the project, Foxconn officials said they planned to produce large, cutting-edge LCD screens. But the company has been revising plans since, first with plans — at least initially — for smaller screens and now a top official talking about moving away from manufacturing altogether at the facility.

Louis Woo told Reuters the company was still evaluating options in Wisconsin but was looking at a “technology hub” in that state that would include research facilities, along with packaging and assembly operations.

Brennan said some of what was announced yesterday had previously been reported, but other details will require further review.

“Our team has been in contact with Foxconn since learning this news and will continue to monitor the project to ensure the company delivers on its promises to the people of Wisconsin,” Brennan said.

“In the coming weeks, the Evers Administration will continue to commit time, resources, and personnel to ensure that the interests of Wisconsin workers and taxpayers are protected and promoted by our approach to the Foxconn project.”

The Legislature’s top Republicans yesterday sought to blame Evers for Foxconn’s change of focus with its Wisconsin facility, while accusing the Dem of having an “anti-jobs agenda.”

But Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz called the comments from Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald “desperate” and an attempt to deflect blame for the company pulling back from its original promises.

Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Vos, R-Rochester, said they don’t blame Foxconn for altering plans in “an ever-changing technology business” before training their fire on Evers.

“It’s also not surprising Foxconn would rethink building a manufacturing plant in Wisconsin under the Evers Administration,” they said in a joint statement. “The company is reacting to the wave of economic uncertainty that the new governor has brought with his administration.”

In a statement, Foxconn Technology Group attributed its change of focus for the facility to a global market that has changed since the project was first announced and a need to adjust plans to meet the needs of customers. The company made no mention of state policies in its announcement, and a spokeswoman didn’t immediately respond to a request for response to the GOP lawmakers’ comments.

The Foxconn Technology Group’s statement said the company is looking at ways to promote research and development at its Wisconsin facility. But the statement didn’t address Reuters’ report, citing company sources, that Foxconn is now looking at employing closer to 1,000 workers at the end of 2020 rather than the 5,200 originally targeted. Reuters also reported Foxconn was prepared to walk away from future incentives if it wasn’t able to hit Wisconsin’s job creation and capital investment requirements.

Earlier this month, Foxconn reported to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. that it had created 178 jobs that met the requirements to qualify for tax credits included in the state’s nearly $3 billion incentive package.

But that was 82 jobs short of the minimum 260 needed to qualify for the credits, and the company had a target of 1,040.

In yesterday’s statement, the company said it remained committed to its original announcement of creating 13,000 jobs.

Hintz fired back at Fitzgerald and Vos that they were part of the GOP team that pushed the Foxconn deal and are now trying to avoid being held accountable.

“There is egg all over their faces for what has just been a colossal failure of decision making,” Hintz said. “Despite clear arguments against the viability of this projects, they were defiant. It’s not a surprise to those of us who argued against this.”

Fitzgerald and Vos stressed tax incentives that were part of the nearly $3 billion state incentive package were based upon the company hitting certain marks before receiving the money.

But Senate Minority Leader Jennifer Shilling, D-La Crosse, accused Republicans of failing to put in place stronger safeguards to hold the company accountable.

“At some point, Republican politicians will need to wake up and realize that these massive taxpayer handouts to foreign corporations are busting our budget and preventing Wisconsin families and businesses from getting ahead,” she said. “Democrats want to increase oversight and accountability to ensure that Wisconsin communities and workers are protected.”

Local officials in the Racine County area said Foxconn again told them yesterday the company is committed to building an advanced manufacturing operation in Wisconsin.

Village of Mount Pleasant President David DeGroot, Racine Co. Exec Jonathan Delagrave and Jenny Trick, executive director of the Racine County Economic Development Corp., said Foxconn was still evaluating what type of technology will be manufactured in Wisconsin.

“We understand that Foxconn must be nimble in responding to market changes to ensure the long-term success of their Wisconsin operations. We fully expect that Foxconn will meet its obligations to the State, County and Village,” they said.

See more reaction in the press release section: