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The past and future of 'Wisconn Valley'

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Seven years ago this summer, Wisconsin brokered a deal with Foxconn — one of the world’s largest electronics manufacturing companies. Foxconn had plans to manufacture TV screens at a location in Mt. Pleasant dubbed “Wisconn Valley.” It promised to create 13,000 jobs and a $10 billion investment across the state. In exchange, Wisconsin offered $3 billion in tax incentives.

Despite the investment, Foxconn hasn’t come close to the promised jobs or investment. Now, Microsoft is building a data center at the site, in an effort to salvage this deal. But will this time be different? Larry Sandler, a local writer and contributor to Milwaukee Magazine, offers some insight on what happened with the original deal and what Microsoft is currently planning.

As Sandler explains, in 2017 Foxconn originally planned to build a Generation 10.5 plant for manufacturing liquid crystal display screens, which would have been the first of its kind in the U.S.

"And none of that happened the way that Foxconn originally said," says Sandler. "There's been about 1,000 jobs and maybe half a billion in investment."

That doesn't necessarily mean that Wisconsin didn't benefit at all from Foxconn's presence. The corporation has built four buildings on the original site and have also built or leased five other structures in other areas including Milwaukee, Madison, Eau Claire, Racine and Green Bay that have employed about 1,000 Wisconsinites. Still, the overall returns of investment have not lived up to the agreement and expectations for the state.

That's where Microsoft comes in. Microsoft plans to build a data center on the site, and while it has not promised a certain number of jobs. Microsoft says its data centers typically employ 300 to 400 people. While this is a far cry from the jobs that Foxconn originally promised, Sandler says Microsoft's existing presence in Green Bay helps alleviate fears that it, too, will fall short of its promises.

"I think every indication is that this is something that Wisconsin can take to the bank," Sandler says.


Sam is a WUWM production assistant for Lake Effect.
Rob is All Things Considered Host and Digital Producer.
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