Could Milwaukee Build A Foxconn City?
Committee explores annexing portion of Racine County for a satellite city.
“What is the ability of the City of Milwaukee to annex real estate in another county? I thought the answer would be a shrug and a ‘that can’t happen.’ Turns out, that can happen!”
Those were the exuberant words of Alderman Robert Bauman as he explained to members of the city’s Zoning, Neighborhoods & Development Committee how the city might construct a satellite city in Racine County to house workers for the proposed 20-million square feet Foxconn factory campus.
The alderman is exploring the idea as an alternative to finding a way to transport potentially thousands of city residents to the south Racine County facility every day. The transit advocate is concerned that there hasn’t been public discussion about how to transport city residents to the facility or about building workforce housing near the facility. He pegs the subsidy amount for Foxconn as well in excess of the $3 billion figure usually used, yet he notes nothing is being discussed for transportation beyond adding a lane to Interstate 94.
Bauman had asked the City Attorney’s office to investigate the feasibility of establishing a satellite city incorporated as part of Milwaukee. Jeremy McKenzie told the committee “when I first got the assignment I thought there is probably no way to do this.” The assistant city attorney detailed six conditions that would need to be satisfied to make an annexation happen for land that wasn’t contiguous with the city.
- The land would have to be lying near, but not necessarily contiguous with the city.
- The land to be annexed must be owned by the city.
- The land must be in a town, and not a village, city or other incorporated entity.
- The town board must approve a resolution approving the annexation.
- The Racine County Board of Supervisors would need to approve the annexation.
- A boundary agreement governing the specific borders would need to be entered into by the city.
Bauman has zeroed in on the Town of Yorkville for study. The town is immediately west of the proposed Foxconn site, located just across Interstate 94. He says the city has a role to play because it’s unlikely Mt. Pleasant or Yorkville are going to construct affordable housing.
“Personally I would prefer the investment in transit to get our people there and back” says the alderman, but short of that he thinks the city should explore annexing the land to provide ready access to well-paying jobs for impoverished city residents. Should the annexation prove too complex, the city could still enter into a partnership through the Housing Authority of the City of Milwaukee with a private developer to construct affordable housing in the area and provide opportunity to current city residents.
How likely is Bauman’s version of the idea to happen? Not very, but it helps elevate the looming issue of transporting thousands of workers to Racine County and the Foxconn facility. Even Gov. Scott Walker, who negotiated the Foxconn deal, seems concerned about the matter. The state has recently begun an advertising campaign in Illinois to attempt to attract new residents.
The reality of the situation isn’t likely to be lost on Foxconn. The company, which operates even larger plants in Asia, is likely to explore building their own “smart city” as part of the development. To accommodate thousands of workers and their families on the proposed campus, Foxconn would need to build housing at a density level seen on Milwaukee’s East Side, if not higher. The appetite for the formerly small towns to engage in such development is unclear.
Department of City Development Deputy Commissioner Martha Brown didn’t outright dismiss Bauman’s idea, but said her office prefers to see the workers live in Milwaukee and bring their earnings back to the city.
Amtrak to the Rescue?
One opportunity to establish a mass transit link to the area could come through an existing transit line. Amtrak’s Hiawatha Service currently operates on tracks that bisect a portion of the 1,000-plus acre Foxconn site. Fourteen trains a day currently cross the site, seven from Illinois and seven from downtown Milwaukee. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is finalizing a study that would allow that number to increase to 20 daily.
Representatives of the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission were at the city ZND committee meeting and Bauman noted that WisDOT “almost (has) a shovel-ready program to utilize existing infrastructure, add three round trips a day, 10 total.” He then asked SEWRPC Deputy Director Kevin Muhs “Has anyone mentioned this?” Muhs told the alderman “it’s been mentioned, but not by those authorized to make those decisions.” SEWRPC will help study and recommend transportation options for the plant, but it will ultimately be up to elected officials and Foxconn to fund any transportation plan.
Although it’s undoubtedly complex, the Hiawatha alternative seems more reasonable than the city constructing a satellite neighborhood. It would avoid further highway congestion, leverage an existing rail line and passenger service and allow the Milwaukee County Transit System to funnel riders towards the existing Milwaukee Intermodal Station in downtown Milwaukee.
Would the Governor support such a measure? Bauman notes that Walker’s powerful lieutenant, the Department of Administration Secretary Scott Neitzel, in a conversation with the alderman characterized transit as “a government solution” to the workforce problem. Bauman told the committee “You spend $3 billion on attracting a private company and you think transit is a government solution?” Bauman said Neitzel discussed a strategy involving privately-operated vans transporting people to the complex.
Expect more debate on this issue until the state endorses a solution.
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- State Reviewing Foxconn Jobs Report - Erik Gunn - Jul 23rd, 2020
- Foxconn Hosts Smart Manufacturing Web Conference, Launches iAI Institute - Foxconn Technology Group - Jul 10th, 2020
- Foxconn Will Make 10K Ventilators - Corri Hess - Jun 19th, 2020
- Medtronic and Foxconn Partner to Increase Ventilator Production - Foxconn Technology Group - Jun 18th, 2020
- Foxconn Audit Delayed Two Months - Erik Gunn - Jun 3rd, 2020
- Back in the News: Foxconn’s Profits Plunge By 90% - Bruce Murphy - May 19th, 2020
- Foxconn to Assemble Procedural Masks in Wisconsin for Pandemic Relief - Foxconn Technology Group - Apr 20th, 2020
- Murphy’s Law: Foxconn Squeezes Evers - Bruce Murphy - Apr 15th, 2020
- Foxconn Says It Earned Tax Credits - Corri Hess - Apr 9th, 2020
- Back in the News: Foxconn Plant Will Make Ventilators - Bruce Murphy - Apr 8th, 2020
Read more about Foxconn Facility here