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The Frowning New Face of Foxconn's Troubled Megaproject in Wisconsin

April 19, 2019

Foxconn's first major manufacturing facility in the United States started out as a great idea, the kind of win-win-win that can make the careers of politicians and CEOs alike.

 

 

But now the three major figureheads behind Foxconn's $10-billion, 13,000-job pledge to build a glass-screen manufacturing plant in southeastern Wisconsin are being increasingly sidelined.

 

 

Foxconn CEO Terry Gou has just declared his candidacy for president of Taiwan, guided by the sea goddess Matsu; he may be too busy campaigning to worry about the fate of a project that he started but then later unsettled with second thoughts about what kinds of products Foxconn actually could build in Wisconsin rather than Asia.

 

 

Ex-Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker got beat for re-election last fall in part because of voters' concerns that the business-minded Republican gave away too much to Foxconn in the form of $4 billion in state financial incentives.

 

 

And President Donald Trump, who gleefully participated in the groundbreaking of the Foxconn plant in 2017 -- and earlier this year jawboned Gou by phone when he heard that the Foxconn chief was getting cold feet -- is becoming increasingly preoccupied by other concerns, such as illegal immigration and his 2020 re-election campaign.

 

 

Who does that leave in authority to pay attention to Foxconn?

 

 

Why, new Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers, that's who -- a Democrat who campaigned on the notion that Walker had given away the store and who now presides over the state's leg of the Foxconn partnership. He suggested this week that he's only bowing to the inevitable to suggest that the state and Foxconn need to renegotiate their deal in the face of Foxconn's difficulties in figuring out what it actually wants to make in Wisconsin and in getting the project into full swing.

 

 

But state Republicans were concerned that Wisconsin never could have credibility with the economic-development community again -- much less with huge companies -- if Evers allowed or engineered some kind of reduction in the scale of the Foxconn deal.

 

 

They're right. Even after several months of uncertainty, Gou still has been recommitting Foxconn to a long-term $10-billion investment in Wisconsin and to fulfilling the 13,000-job pledge in some form. Better for Evers to do whatever he can to make that commitment even more secure than to try to score political points by dismantling Walker's deal.

 

 

If he were smart, Evers would even put his own stamp on Walker's notion of

trying to shape a "Wisconn Valley" tech ecosystem around Foxconn and of leveraging to the greatest extent possible the biggest opportunity the Badger State may ever get to make a huge leap into a new era of technology.

 

 

But such enlightenment doesn't seem likely at a time when state Democrats still want to extract payback from a Walker governorship that saw them lose a lot of ground in areas such as public-worker health benefits. What better way to add humiliation to Walker's defeat than to take apart his signature economic achievement.

 

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