One of Gov. Walker’s erstwhile top lieutenants defended the Foxconn deal at a luncheon Tuesday in downtown Milwaukee. Former Department of Administration Secretary Scott Neitzel spoke to a couple hundred people at the Rotary Club. While Neitzel assured the crowd of the Foxconn promise, some were skeptical.
Neitzel retired from the post last month, after helping to secure the agreement with Foxconn. He says he was honored to help the Taiwanese company build a huge LCD screen manufacturing plant in Racine County. Neitzel insists the deal will protect Wisconsin taxpayers.
“There is no giveaway here. It’s you do something that we want you to do, we’ll give you the money. So, it’s you invest in a new plant and equipment, we’ll give you the tax credit.”
Neitzel’s talking about the more than $4 billion in tax incentives from state and local governments. “There’s no check being written at the front end of this contract to say here’s your money, we hope you do something,” he says.
Many people have voiced concerns – one is, whether there will be transportation to jobs, particularly from Milwaukee’s central city where unemployment is high. Neitzel says that’s not the state’s responsibility.
“Everybody at every level is committed to resolving that, Waukesha County, Racine County, Kenosha County. We were able to attract Foxconn because our governmental units can work together and if we can work together to get Foxconn here, we can solve these problems,” Neitzel says.
Neitzel also says Foxconn is committed to making sure jobs are filled by Wisconsin residents. That’s despite a $7 million advertising campaign Gov. Walker approved, designed to attract workers from Chicago, Detroit and Minneapolis.
After Neitzel spoke, he took questions from the audience. One person asked about the environmental impact of the project, especially Foxconn’s request to use seven million gallons of Lake Michigan water per day for its operation. Neitzel says Foxconn is committed to being a clean corporate citizen.
“They’re going to have to meet those same requirements that anybody else does for water being returned to the system and I am confident that they will meet or exceed every environmental standard that we have,” Neitzel says.
I caught up with a few people after the meeting adjourned – including Kris Martinsek of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Sewerage District Commission. She says she hopes Foxconn will live up to its promise to keep the water clean.
“Their reputation in China does not indicate that that’s been their history. Their electronic production process is full of very highly toxic chemicals and it is very water based so in additional to bringing seven million gallons of water out of the lake every day, they’re going to be putting it back into the system and I want to make sure that water is going back as clean or cleaner than when they took it out,” Martinsek says.
Another person with doubts was Janan Najeeb of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition. She fears Foxconn may pull out of the deal, leaving taxpayers on the hook, and says Neitzel’s presentation didn’t convince her otherwise.
“I felt that he was more like a politician who was here to sell us on Foxconn and I came out more convinced that there are no guarantees,” Najeeb says.
The Foxconn plant is expected to create at least 3,000 jobs and possibly up to 13,000 positions. Groundbreaking is expected this spring.