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

Foxconn Says It'll Soon Be Hiring More Construction Companies

Construction is ramping up at the Foxconn site in Racine County. Spring means road projects are underway and other land preparation. And more projects are planned, including an 18-month effort to put up a high-profile manufacturing building for small video display screens.

Foxconn will soon ask potential contractors to submit bids for the additional work. But can the firms trust Foxconn's request?

Just months earlier, the Taiwan-based company made international news with reports about possibly canceling plans to make liquid crystal display screens at its Mount Pleasant site. But President Donald Trump got involved, and says he convinced Foxconn to go ahead with manufacturing the flat screen panels

Foxconn's construction management firm Gilbane/Exyte then announced five prime subcontractors who'll work on site utilities, roads and storm drainage.

Credit Chuck Quirmbach
Earth-moving equipment sits along Highway H in Racine County.

Along a soon to be shut down stretch of County Highway H next to the Foxconn property, there's already a lot of earth moving going on.

Next, Gilbane's Adam Jelen says it's time to find people to bid on several things, including building a power substation and portions of the manufacturing facility.

"It's a go, so these are going to happen rapidly. Last year, they were spaced out because it was mostly site development. But right now, you're going to see a posting here and a posting here," Jelen said Wednesday at Gateway Technical College in Sturtevant to those representing construction firms, electrical contractors and various subcontractors.

Credit Chuck Quirmbach
Adam Jelen, of Gilbane Building Co., speaks to contractors Wednesday in Sturtevant.

Scott Riemer, of Pieper Electric, says when the request for bids on the substation is posted, his company will submit a proposal. Pieper worked on the multi-purpose building put up at the Foxconn site last year, and Riemer says he's confident Foxconn is ready for the next phase. 

"It sounds like there is a plan, and packages are imminent to bid on," Riemer told WUWM.

Also on hand was Roger Blair of Jasperson Sod Service in Franksville, Wis. Blair says his company supplies the landscaping industry, which presumably Foxconn will need once more buildings are finished. He plans to keep in touch with various contractors and hopes things work out the way Foxconn now says they will.

Credit Chuck Quirmbach
Representatives of construction companies, suppliers and other firms at Wednesday's presentation about Foxconn.

"There is a lot of back and forth, and as in anything, some things work and some things don't. And it's just in the best interest of our institution to just be aware and up to date on what's going on. And if we can contribute anything to the success of the whole program, then we're all ahead," Blair said.

Most Racine-area officials seem on board with Foxconn's next phase. County Executive Jonathan Delagrave says potential contractors can assume it's for real.

"Yeah, absolutely it's real. You saw $100 million that have already been invested in Racine County, $200 million in the state of Wisconsin. To me, that's real money and a real  investment," Delagrave said.

But Bruce Murphy, editor and columnist of Urban Milwaukee, is raising questions about part of the project. He says a business expert has warned him that Foxconn would have trouble fabricating glass display screens, due to the type of gravel base planned for underneath the plant.

"Any wobble ruins the whole thing. And so, you have to have this incredible stable base, which is made of structural steel and can go as far down as two stories," Murphy explained.

Murphy also reports that Foxconn representatives have told him his expert is making "an inaccurate assertion."      

While that potential concern is resolved, Wisconsin Revenue Secretary Peter Barca says he'll continue to monitor that many of the construction firms are from in-state. 

Credit Chuck Quirmbach
The multi-purpose building completed at the Foxconn site late last year.

"You know, Foxconn had committed that 25 percent of their subcontracts go to Wisconsin companies. That could be $1.4 billion in contracts for the state, in terms of state revenues. That's vitally important," Barca said.

Jenny Trick of the Racine County Economic Development Corporation says she's looking to see that diversity goals are met. 

"You might guess that my antenna is up for women-owned businesses, given my gender," Trick said.

But Trick says Foxconn is exceeding the hiring goals. She says she'll stay confident in the firm, as long as she continues to see action on the construction front.

Do you have a question about innovation in Wisconsin that you'd like WUWM's Chuck Quirmbach to explore? Submit it below.


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