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Evers, Top Aide Seek To Reassure Milwaukee Business Community About Foxconn’s Future

Chuck Quirmbach
Buildings at the Foxconn site in Racine County.

Updated Wednesday at 1:55 p.m. CT

The fate of the state’s contract with Foxconn has been up in the air for more than a month. In mid-December, Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers' administration warned Foxconn Technology Group that it wouldn’t collect any state incentives for its scaled-down factory in Mount Pleasant — unless the Taiwanese electronics giant renegotiated the deal.

On Tuesday in Milwaukee, Evers’ lead negotiator with Foxconn, Administration Secretary Joel Brennan, gave an update on the Foxconn contract situation to the Rotary Club. He told the audience of business and community leaders that he expects the dialogues with Foxconn to take place in the coming weeks.

“I hope and I expect there will be constructive conversations between the state and Foxconn,” Brennan said.

The Foxconn contract was shepherded through the state by former Republican Gov. Scott Walker. Gov. Evers, who defeated Walker in November 2018, is a Democrat. But Brennan told the crowd:

“There is nobody in the [Evers] administration who is rooting against Foxconn.”

Foxconn originally had promised to build a massive LCD flat-screen factory in Racine County, eventually employing up to 13,000 people. In return, state and local governments offered $4 billion in incentives. But last spring, the company said the factory will be smaller than originally planned.

Since the time the contract was signed, Foxconn has said it would build smaller screens for things like cell phones and computers. The number of jobs to be created has been less clear, contributing to uncertainty among some observers and Foxconn critics.

Meanwhile, buildings have been going up on the Foxconn property, and the company insists the facility will be a long-term success. At a holiday party the company held in Milwaukee on Dec. 6, Foxconn founder Terry Gou said, “I am committed to Wisconsin, to the United States, to Racine County.”

Administration Secretary Brennan’s public comments about Foxconn at Tuesday’s Rotary Club meeting were the first he’s made on the topic in weeks. However, he says it wasn’t the only time he’s spoken to leaders, reassuring them about the state’s commitment to working with the company.

After the address, Brennan told WUWM that business and county leaders have told him they want the two sides to keep talking.

“There are many interested parties and people around the Greater Milwaukee community and the Milwaukee 7 that want those conversations to continue,” Brennan said.

Milwaukee 7, also known as M7, was launched in 2005, to create a regional, cooperative economic development platform for the seven counties of southeastern Wisconsin.

Brennan added that he’s talked with representatives from the M7 and the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce (MMAC).

"But we do that not just around Foxconn. We do that around overall economic development in the state. It's an important part of just making sure that [Gov. Evers] stays in tune with what's happening here in the local community, and how we can support it,” Brennan said.

Evers also spoke about Foxconn at an M7 meeting on Wednesday morning in Milwaukee.

“I am very happy they are building a 1 million square foot facility [in Mount Pleasant] and I know they’ll be manufacturing and doing work down there some time during 2020. We’re going to do everything we can to support that work,” Evers said.

Evers adds that the work may change over time, like it has already. “I’m willing to make sure those changes are within the confines of the deal that was cut them. But at the end of the day, I want them to be successful.”

Afterward, MMAC President Tim Sheehy talked to WUWM about the Evers administration and Foxconn: “I think Wisconsin wins when both parties come together, and that’s the path they’re on,” Sheehy said.

M7 co-chair Gale Klappa, who’s also executive chairman of WEC Energy Group, added, “I think the key—and you heard [Evers] say it again today — the key is the governor’s committed to Foxconn being successful in Wisconsin.”

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