THU AM News: Ending tariffs could improve competition with China; Foxconn to make electric vehicles for Fisker, maybe in Wisconsin

— Trade experts said eliminating or reducing tariffs would improve competition between the U.S. and China. 

Former President Trump’s relationship with China has significantly reduced the success rate of Wisconsin companies, panelists explained yesterday in a Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce World Trade Association virtual event.

While tariffs have received negative international attention, former Obama- and Trump-era U.S. Ambassador to Brunei Craig Allen said he’s optimistic for Wisconsin agricultural exports that are performing well with tariffs, such as dairy and ginseng.

But while ag exports have continued to perform steadily, industries like manufacturing and supply-chain companies have been hurt. A dismantling of Trump-era tariffs could change this.  

President Biden’s foreign policy portfolio would be “much less confrontational and combative and would focus more on the competition side – a quieting down of the ideological disputes and a continued focus on human rights,” Allen said.  

M.E. Dey & Co. President Sandi Siegel said the elimination or reduction of tariffs would improve competition between the U.S. and China and other countries. 

Read the full story at 

— Foxconn’s partnership with electric vehicle startup Fisker would make the southeastern Wisconsin region a new hub for next-gen manufacturing, according to the Taiwanese tech giant.

But the location is to be determined.

Foxconn Technology Group has agreed to assemble electric vehicles for the Los Angeles-based company. Foxconn and Fisker have signed a memorandum of understanding to jointly produce more than 250,000 vehicles a year, the companies said in a statement yesterday. The projected start of production is the fourth quarter of 2023.

“Our presence in Wisconsin has caught the attention of many businesses and investors who share our vision for a Park that is sustainable for business and community growth,” Foxconn said. “This will make our Park, the region, and our state a new hub for next-gen technological product design and smart manufacturing. As a contract manufacturer, Foxconn requires flexibility in order to respond to market demand with speed and agility.”

While the location has yet to be determined, Fisker Chief Executive Henrik Fisker told the Wall Street Journal there is a very good chance initial production will be in the U.S., in part because Foxconn already has a factory in Wisconsin.

“They’ve got a factory there and quite a lot of land with quite a lot of possibility for expansion,” he said. “We haven’t made a final decision on that but that’s an obvious one.”

— The announcement comes as Foxconn and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. seem to be close to a new deal. 

After Foxconn failed to meet job creation requirements to qualify for billions in tax incentives, it negotiated with WEDC over a new benefits package. Documents obtained by through an open records request show discussion between WEDC staff and Foxconn executives surrounding the negotiations.

“As promised, attached are the two incentive options that WEDC is able to offer,” WEDC’s chief legal officer, Jennifer Campbell, wrote in a Jan. 14 email to Foxconn executives.

WEDC does not make the details of ongoing negotiations public, but Secretary and CEO Missy Hughes told a Milwaukee Press Club event last month that she was optimistic about reaching an agreement with Foxconn.

See the release:

See coverage of the Milwaukee Press Club event:

— Custom plastic injection molding enterprise Sussex IM is investing $9.9 million in multiple projects expected to create 84 jobs over the next three years.

The expansion in Sussex, near Milwaukee, will allow the company to take advantage of a growing market and increased demand for medical molding products produced in the U.S., Hughes said. She added that the announcement is the latest example of companies choosing to establish or expand operations in Wisconsin. 

WEDC is supporting the project by authorizing up to $200,000 in state income tax credits over the next three years. The actual amount of tax credits Sussex IM will receive is contingent upon the number of jobs created during that period. 

WEDC has also awarded up to $2.63 million in volume cap allocation for the project’s industrial revenue bond financing, which enables companies to take advantage of the municipal bond market and access lower interest rates to finance capital expenditure spending.

In addition to the 84 jobs expected to be created by Sussex IM, an economic modeling study estimates the project could indirectly generate 109 additional jobs in the region. Those 193 total jobs are expected to generate $342,616 in state income taxes annually.

— Oshkosh Corp.’s Oshkosh Defense won the U.S. Postal Service contract to produce the USPS’s first large-scale fleet procurement in three decades. 

The competitive contract allows for the delivery of between 50,000 and 165,000 next-generation delivery vehicles over a period of 10 years. Production of the vehicle is expected to begin in 2023.

Oshkosh Defense will make both zero-emission battery electric vehicles and fuel-efficient low-emission internal combustion engine vehicles. Under the contract, the USPS has committed to pay Oshkosh Defense $482 million to initiate engineering efforts to finalize the production vehicle design, and for tooling and factory build-out activities that are necessary prior to vehicle production.

“Our century-long history of delivering products to customers, operating in some of the most demanding and severe conditions on the planet, uniquely positions us to bring exceptional reliability, safety, and maintainability to USPS’s Next Generation Delivery Vehicles,” said Oshkosh Corp. Vice President and Oshkosh Defense President John Bryant. “Partnering with trusted suppliers, we have developed a purpose-built solution to support the current and future needs of the USPS.”

— Startup accelerator gener8tor and Neenah-based Georgia-Pacific are launching a new program in northeast Wisconsin called 1915 Studios to grow startups. 

1915 Studios is a pre-accelerator for early-stage companies. The first cohort will kick off this summer and will focus on product-based solutions within hygiene, the Internet of Things and sensing. The free accelerator will operate from space in Georgia-Pacific’s Consumer Products R&D center in Neenah. A second cohort will run in the fall. 

1915 Studios follows the model of gener8tor’s gBETA program. The program provides participants with intensive and individualized coaching and access to gener8tor’s national network of mentors, potential customers, corporate partners and investors. 1915 Studios’ 12-week program is designed to help startups prototype and build their products, gain early customer interest in their product or idea, and establish metrics that make them competitive applicants for full-time accelerators or seed investment.

“We believe working closely with startups to aid in developing their businesses can result in significant mutual benefit for all involved,” said Darin Driessen, director of R&D Open Innovation at Georgia-Pacific and managing director of 1915 Studios. “Bringing together the new ideas and approaches of startups and the proven go-to-market capabilities at our Neenah R&D center will create a powerful innovation environment.”

Consumer products startups are invited to apply for programming and resources: 

— Wisconsin Technology Council President Tom Still says Wisconsin will “cross the COVID-19 chasm” through technology and existing resources. 

In a Madison Rotary Club virtual event, Still said Wisconsin cities will fare well after the COVID-19 pandemic because technology in areas such as agriculture and natural resources will surge as more tech workers move to Wisconsin cities. He said Wisconsin’s relatively stable climate, predictable cost of doing business, and high-quality health care are attractive to businesses and workers looking for the best environment to do business in. 

The existing infrastructure and environment make Wisconsin a much more attractive place for tech workers to move to, he said. 

“There’s an exodus of sorts in places like the Silicon Valley and New York City, other cities around the country, and I think Madison and the rest of Wisconsin can pick up on that and attract a lot of people from elsewhere to come to the state and see what we have going for us,” Still said.

Still added the UW-System could play a vital role in attracting new companies by providing a highly-skilled workforce from its universities to fill the new job positions that come with those new companies. 

— Tracie Rotter, former Google Ventures partner, will open the eighth annual Wisconsin Tech Summit. 

She’ll discuss how to build innovative relationships between major firms and emerging companies. The Tech Summit is built around a series of brief meetings, or “speed dates,” to foster communication and partnership between 22 major firms and about 80 emerging companies.

The March 17 Tech Summit will also include educational “office hours” seminars, an opening discussion to help set the stage for emerging companies by allowing major firms to talk generally about their goals and a plenary panel examining trends in health care data.

Register here: 

— Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce calls strengthening Buy American laws a “nice political gesture,” but argues they won’t come close to fixing policies that raise the cost of doing business.

This week, Dem U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin and a bipartisan group of four other Midwest senators introduced legislation to strengthen the Buy American laws. The Make It in America Act would make it harder for federal agencies to use waivers to get around Buy American requirements, requiring the federal government to give preference to American companies.

The 1933 Buy American Act requires federal agencies to give preferential treatment to manufacturers of high-quality, American-made goods and products. But Baldwin argues that loopholes, waivers and violations have allowed federal agencies to buy products overseas.

The Make It in America Act would make waivers public, stop the use of the “public interest” waiver if a foreign contract would decrease American employment and increase American-made content from 50 percent to 75 percent. The bill would also create a new Made in America Office to review waivers. And it would give transportation project preference to small- and medium-sized American manufacturers.

WMC President and CEO Kurt Bauer said the organization agrees with Baldwin’s desire to protect and grow U.S. manufacturing, sharing the belief that manufacturing is critical for both the economy and national security. 

“However, WMC believes the best way to keep U.S. manufacturers globally competitive and encourage re-shoring of manufacturing jobs is to not squander the U.S. advantage on domestic energy — the number one cost of doing business for the manufacturing sector,” he said. 

“The U.S. should also keep corporate tax rates and regulations in line with global competitors and geo-political rivals to incentivize more U.S.-based production,” Bauer continued. “Forcing the federal government to buy from American companies is a nice political gesture, but won’t come close to compensating manufacturers for misguided policies that raise the costs of energy, taxes and regulations.”

— Baldwin also introduced the FEEDD Act with a Republican colleague to help farmers and ranchers alleviate feed shortages in years with widespread excessive moisture, flooding or drought.

FEEDD — Feed Emergency Enhancement During Disasters with Cover Crops — would create an emergency waiver allowing haying, grazing or chopping of a cover crop before the current nationwide date of Nov. 1 in the event of feed shortage. It would also allow the Secretary of Agriculture to establish earlier regional haying and grazing dates for each crop year. Nov. 1 disadvantages producers in the upper Midwest, the act argues.

Darin Von Ruden, president of the Wisconsin Farmers Union, said the effects of climate change — rising average temperatures, shifting precipitation patterns, changing growing seasons, and increasingly frequent and severe weather events — are making it more difficult to grow crops. He said the FEEDD Act would provide flexibility to farmers and ranchers as they prepare for future growing seasons.

Wisconsin Farm Bureau President Kevin Krentz said dairy and livestock farmers in Wisconsin and parts of the Midwest recently experienced substantial feed shortages due to winterkill of alfalfa. 

“This legislation will give flexibility to the USDA Secretary in the event of a feed shortage due to increased weather variability,” he said. “Wisconsin farmers welcome the passage of The FEEDD Act.”


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