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Will Foxconn Build A Huge Wisconsin Factory? One Reporter's Cautionary Take

Daniel Berehulak/Getty Images
Foxconn International Holdings Ltd on November 28, 2010 in Shenzhen, China.

There was a lot promised to the residents of Harrisburg, Pennsylvania in 2013. China-based tech company Foxconn "sent a jolt through the state capital" when it's CEO announced that a $30 million facility would be built to bring tech jobs to the area. The plans never materialized.

So what does this have to do with southeastern Wisconsin? 

This month, in a visit to Waukesha County Technical College, President Donald Trump alluded to potential negotiations that could lead to a tech plant in Wisconsin run by the very same company.

“We were negotiating with a major, major incredible manufacturer of phones and computers and televisions," said President Trump. 

Credit The Washington Post
Washington Post reporter Todd C. Frankel, who covered the Foxconn plant that never was in Pennsylvania. Frankel joined Lake Effect to discuss similar claims made in Wisconsin by President Trump.

After the disappointment in Pennsylvania, Washington Post reporter Todd Frankel uncovered the storythat seemed to reveal a pattern of Foxconn's faulty promises.

READ: How Foxconn’s broken pledges in Pennsylvania cast doubt on Trump’s jobs plan

Frankel's reporting also uncovered similar announcements in Colorado, Arizona, India, Indonesia, and Brazil. Foxconn never followed through on plans to build factories in those places, and - significantly - little follow-up on the stories emerged in the press.

"No one had gone back to see whether this had been carried through, and it hadn't," says Frankel. "There was no sign of any development there."

Frankel says this string of development plans are appealing to politicians looking to make big statements about jobs and economic growth, especially in political battleground states like Wisconsin and Pennsylvania. The Rust Belt states may benefit from new technology-related jobs like the ones Foxconn can provide, but in Harrisburg, the promise of new jobs didn't seem to be rooted in any action. 

"It was very clear early on, in this Foxconn deal in 2013 that nothing was going to happen," explains Frankel. "If you check the Secretary of State's registries there was no new businesses, there was no permits pulled for construction, and you know, no one had bothered to look back to see what was going on."

He notes that the promise in Pennsylvania and the negotiations President Trump alluded to last week in Waukesha bear similarities.  Although the president did not disclose the negotiations with Foxconn specifically, the Associated Press reported on Wednesday that, "a person with direct knowledge of the negotiations who was not authorized to speak publicly" confirmed "that the state is in talks with Foxconn." 

And Frankel says the phenomenon isn't unique to any particular political party.  But the key, he says, is for local politicians, residents and media outlets keep tabs on projects that are announced in their communities. "See something in writing. You want to see that there is some sort of promise that they have to stand behind. Some sort of signing an economic letter of intent," he says. "The problem is though at this early stage there is very little you can do."