Gov. Tony Evers today warned the state will need to “continually monitor the progress” of the Foxconn Technology Group after the Taiwanese tech company said it is moving forward with plans to manufacture LCD screens in southeastern Wisconsin.
Today’s announcement came on the heels of reports suggesting Foxconn was considering a change in focus at its Wisconsin plant or halting the project altogether.
Instead, Foxconn reaffirmed previously announced plans to build what’s called a Generation 6 facility, which would produce smaller LCD screens than those originally envisioned when Wisconsin inked a $3 billion incentive package with the company.
Foxconn made the announcement after having “productive conversations” with the White House and a personal discussion between Chairman Terry Gou and President Trump.
Meanwhile, Evers told reporters in Madison after speaking today with Louis Woo, special assistant to Gou, he’s “comfortable that they’re still committed to the state.” Still, Evers said his priority remained insuring “taxpayers are protected and the environment is protected.”
During the fall campaign, Evers had raised concerns about the air quality permits the state issued Foxconn for the project.
A Department of Natural Resources spokesman said there have been no requests to rescind or modify either the air permit or the agency’s approval for Foxconn to divert up to 7 million gallons of water a day from Lake Michigan for the plant.
Today, Evers said a review of the air standards would take “some time,” particularly with the company looking at a different vision for the plant than what was first proposed.
Earlier this week, Foxconn said its plans over the next 18 months at the Wisconsin facility included a packaging plant, molding factory and assembly facility, among other things.
“Those air standards were created based on previous expectations of what they were actually going to be doing, so that’s likely something that will be in flux for a little bit until we see exactly what’s written,” Evers said. “Air standards have always been a concern, and as I said before, protecting the taxpayers, protecting the environment continues to be our top priority.”
Foxconn had originally planned to build a larger Generation 10.5 facility for LCD panels but last summer backed away from the plan and opted for the Generation 6 factory. The company at the time left open the possibility for a Generation 10.5 facility, but said the final decision would depend on market and economic conditions.
Today’s announcement followed a whiplash few days in which Woo suggested in an interview the company was looking at shifting its focus in Wisconsin to a technology hub rather than a manufacturing. That was followed by a report — refuted by the company and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. — that Foxconn was halting the project altogether after Evers tried to renegotiate the contract.
Foxconn Technology Group today said its decision for a Generation 6 facility is based on “a recent comprehensive and systematic evaluation” to identify the thin-film transistor screens best suited for the Wisconsin project.
“We have undertaken the evaluation while simultaneously seeking to broaden our investment across Wisconsin far beyond our original plans to ensure the company, our workforce, the local community, and the state of Wisconsin will be positioned for long-term success,” the statement said.
The statement didn’t include a timeline for construction or an estimate of how many would be employed at the facility.
Meanwhile, Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, pointed to the company’s comments earlier this week that it’s planning to shift away from LCD manufacturing to reflect market demand and “meet these new realities.” He questioned how Foxconn officials could recommit to producing screens after saying the factory “by their own admission is noncompetitive.”
“How did they justify two days ago saying that they can’t manage to compete in electronics manufacturing in the U.S. then go forward with a facility at least verbally again?” he asked.
But Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, praised Trump for his “commitment to Wisconsin workers.”
“Our state has an ally in the White House who is dedicated to helping us bring family-supporting careers to our state,” they said in a joint statement.
Fitzgerald and Vos also thanked Foxconn for “reaffirming its commitment” and predicted the state would soon see “an influx of manufacturing jobs and billions in investments.”
The original contract called for up to 13,000 employees and a $10 billion investment. But the company fell short of the minimum number of employees required to qualify in 2018 for the first year of tax credits. And the Reuters report that sparked this week’s coverage cited an anonymous company source saying Foxconn is expected to employ around 1,000 workers by the end of 2020, rather than the approximately 5,200 it initially pledged.
–This story has been updated with additional comment.