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WUWM’s Chuck Quirmbach reports on innovation in southeastern Wisconsin.

Evers Administration Names 'Everyday' Foxconn Point Person

Chuck Quirmbach
Construction items at the Foxconn site in Mount Pleasant.

A top state official says Gov. Tony Evers' administration still plans to meet financial commitments to Foxconn, as needed. The official adds that a key agency is about to have someone work with the Taiwan-based technology firm every day, as the company presumably moves ahead with projects in Racine County, Milwaukee and elsewhere.

When Republican Scott Walker was governor, the state Department of Administration had an employee who coordinated the interactions of all state agencies with Foxconn. In December, after Walker was defeated by Democrat Evers, Walker and GOP lawmakers approved a measure to make sure the Foxconn point person in the Evers administration was appointed by the board of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

State Administration Secretary Joel Brennan says the newly-hired employee, Sam Rikkers, will serve as Strategic Economic Initiatives Director starting Monday. Brennan told a Milwaukee Business Journal forum on Thursday that Rikkers will have plenty to do.

"He will do Foxconn everyday -- whether it's being on site, whether it's being in communication with locals, whether it's coordinating across the administration, you know, all the things that have to be done -- whether it's reaching out directly to Foxconn," Brennan said.

Most recently, Rikkers worked for the Wisconsin Institutes for Discovery at UW-Madison. Previously, he was an Obama administration Department of Agriculture official working on rural economic development.  

Brennan says Gov. Evers' biennial budget proposal contains more than $200 million in tax credits that Foxconn could earn in the next 15 months, if the company meets targets for hiring and capital investments. 

Credit Chuck Quirmbach
Wisconsin Dept. of Administration Secretary Joel Brennan speaks to a news reporter Thursday in Milwaukee.

"I think what it shows is the state has an obligation to do that. This was a contract negotiated under the prior administration that obligates the state to uphold its end of the bargain," Brennan told WUWM.

Also this week, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reported that a new DNR review of environmental permits for Foxconn found they all meet state and federal requirements.  

That still leaves the question of just how much the state will have to regulate with Foxconn, as since the Legislature approved an unprecedented $3 billion incentives plan, Foxconn has scaled back the size of the LCD screens to be produced at a plant in Mount Pleasant. Then, last month, President Donald Trump said he got Foxconn to recommit to making flat screens at the facility, after Foxconn said it might just focus on research and engineering jobs.  

Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation CEO Mark Hogan told Thursday’s forum that the next 30 to 60 days is a fair timeline for clarity in Foxconn's plans — sort of.

"I think it is, and for the next four years, you're going to be saying, 'in the next 30 to 60 days, you're looking for clarity' Hogan said to laughter, adding, "because that's what we've been doing for the last 18 months."


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Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August 2018. He focuses his longform stories on health, innovation, science, technology, transportation, utilities and business.
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