Foxconn Promises Wisconsin LCD Screen Plant; Number Of Manufacturing Jobs Unclear

Feb 1, 2019

Update 1:21 p.m.

After discussions with President Donald Trump, Foxconn plans to proceed with plans to construct an LCD screen plant in Wisconsin that will make screens that can be used for small electronic devices. 

"Foxconn is moving forward with our planned construction of a Gen 6 fab [what Foxconn calls LCD] facility, which will be at the heart of the Wisconn Valley Science and Technology Park. This campus will serve both as an advanced manufacturing facility as well as a hub of high technology innovation for the region," the Foxconn said in a Friday statement.

The news comes after a week of confusion about Foxconn's plans in Wisconsin. The company had said last year that it was planning to build such a facility in Wisconsin, but comments by a Foxconn official this week that it was not building a factory in the state cast the future of the project in doubt.

Foxconn says that after productive discussions with the White House, and a personal conversation between Trump and Foxconn chairman Terry Gou, it plans to proceed with the smaller manufacturing facility. 

Original Story 11:46 a.m.

There have been several reports out about Foxconn’s plans for Wisconsin in the past few days.

First, Reuters reported that Foxconn was reconsidering plans to build liquid crystal display panels. Then, Nikkei Asian Review, a large Japan-based news organization, reported that Foxconn is suspending work on its Wisconsin project for 6 months.

READ: Foxconn Factory Jobs Will Not Come To Pass

Rick Romell, business reporter for the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, has been following the Foxconn project closely.

“Who knows what’s going to happen. That’s an honest statement. We really don’t know,” he says.

Foxconn has promised to create 13,000 jobs. Romell says the company originally planned to staff its huge electronics factory in Mount Pleasant with two-thirds to three-quarters factory workers, one-third engineers. But with time, those plans changed.

Romell says the company started flipping the percentages of researchers and factory workers in March, then expressed that there would be a clear majority engineers.

“So, that’s this dramatic shift from a production-heavy, manufacturing-heavy workforce with relatively low-skill, low-education requirements to what they’re now saying is a workforce vastly dominated by engineers and other knowledge-type workers,” says Romell.

Foxconn issued a statement Thursday, reaffirming its commitment to creating 13,000 jobs in Wisconsin.

The company indicated that over the next 18 months, it plants to move forward with an ‘advanced manufacturing facility’ on its Mount Pleasant campus, along with a packaging plant, a high precision molding factory, and other facilities.

But the statement went on to say that the global market environment has changed, and the company had to adjust its plans. That’s left uncertainty as to exactly what the company will produce, and who’ll be producing it.  

Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett discussed developments Wednesday. He pointed out that one of the major selling points of the factory — and the huge tax incentives for Foxconn — was that the plant would provide jobs for people who need jobs in Racine and Milwaukee. 

“Obviously, our major labor pool that needs jobs are the unskilled and the under-employed right now. And as the project — whatever the project changes to — transforms into something that’s more research-oriented, that doesn’t bode well for those who are underserved in Milwaukee,” said Barrett.

" ... As the project transforms into something that's more research-oriented, that doesn't bode well for those who are underserved in Milwaukee," said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

He’s also concerned about how the changes in Mount Pleasant will impact taxpayers and their investment in the project.

Tim Sheehy, of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, says there’s been a lot of speculation. But it’s his understanding that Foxconn is committed to manufacturing in Wisconsin.

“I think they’re looking at what kind of technology they would be manufacturing here. But what we want to make sure is that there’s enough flexibility so whatever Foxconn investment is made in Wisconsin, it’s successful and employs people here,” he says.

Sheehy says the company’s contract with the state confirms that Foxconn will only be paid for jobs and capital investment that are brought to or made here in Wisconsin. Because of that, he’s not concerned about Wisconsin being left high and dry if Foxconn were not to follow through on its contract.

“Hypothetically, if Foxconn stopped today and made no other investment, Wisconsin would not have paid out any incentives, and Foxconn would still be responsible for 30 years of property tax payments in the neighborhood of $30 million a year, to pay for any of the infrastructure costs that are in place,” Sheehy says.

The Foxconn project was championed by former Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican.

New Gov. Tony Evers, a Democrat, says he’s been working closely with the company. His administration issued a statement saying it will continue to monitor the project to ensure that the interests of Wisconsin workers and taxpayers are protected.