Two-term incumbent Scott Walker and challenger Tony Evers square off Friday night in their first debate of the Wisconsin governor's race. It’s a fair bet to expect disagreements on many topics, including a key part of the Walker's pro-business platform — Foxconn.
After all, it's been a dramatic highlight of Walker's last 15 months in office: the governor, President Donald Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan announcing Foxconn will bring thousands of jobs to Wisconsin. Then, Walker and others promising $4 billion in state and local subsidies if the Taiwan-based firm keeps its word.
In Racine County, where Foxconn is building a huge electronics factory, construction is in full swing. At a campaign appearance in Milwaukee, the Republican governor said landing Foxconn shows he's the candidate of modern jobs and innovation.
"Foxconn made a $100 million investment, that they recently announced, in venture capital. Foxconn, when you think about both keeping our talent here and attracting new talent to this area, think about millennials understanding the company that makes their iPhone could have picked anyplace in the world to build their next LCD panel facility and they picked right here, in the great state of Wisconsin," Walker said.
Former Wisconsin Gov. Tommy Thompson, who often said he offered bold ideas for the state, has been helping Walker campaign. Thompson says Walker also lays the groundwork for innovation.
"You know, you've gotta have a stable state. You've gotta have the income coming in. You've gotta have stable expenditures. Then you can try a lot of new things," Thompson said.
But Walker's focus on Foxconn remains controversial. Polling by Marquette University that reveals a tight race between Walker and Democratic challenger Tony Evers also continues to show substantial voter concern about the Foxconn deal, especially in northern Wisconsin.
And, some business people in Milwaukee who are not Foxconn contractors say the state is ignoring their concerns.
At Great Impressions Graphics and Printing, on West Burleigh Street, owner Carolyn Walker says she's got nothing against Foxconn. But she says many small businesses like hers need help from the state in finding affordable health care insurance for current and potential employees.
"It's very costly. It hinders me from retaining quality people, or even getting them in the door. So, I really would like to be able to provide that," she said.
And she wants the next governor to improve education, so she gets more qualified job applicants. While she's not 100 percent sure that Tony Evers can address all her concerns, Carolyn Walker says, "I just know I don't want to continue the way we've been."
Neither does Evers. After a Milwaukee Rotary Club appearance last month, the state school superintendent told reporters that his innovation focus is home-grown.
"It's start-ups, it's those second or third tier entrepreneurs. They don't need money, they need support in getting a loan. Getting a loan from local bank circulates money within a community. That's where the innovation's going to come from, and clearly, we need to make sure the University of Wisconsin System plays a role in that," Evers said.
If elected, he says he wouldn't try to cancel the Foxconn deal, just make sure the company lives up to its jobs promises and protects its workers.
Democrats sometimes have an uphill battle winning over the private sector and its employees. But State Democratic Party Chairperson Martha Laning, who organized a business forum last week in Brookfield, is hoping the Foxconn financial bonus Scott Walker often talks about is more like Foxconn fatigue. "Right now, the state is out of balance" she said. "We've invested the largest financial payout to a company in United States history, and we have put all our marbles in that one basket."
Laning says instead, thousands of businesses across Wisconsin could be getting help to thrive and innovate.
Support is provided by Dr. Lawrence and Mrs. Hannah Goodman for Innovation reporting.
Do you have a question about innovation in Wisconsin that you'd like WUWM's Chuck Quirmbach to explore? Submit it below.