Why Foxconn Won’t Leave Wisconsin
It's spent hundreds of millions and gained nothing. Why not fold up its tent and leave?
Back in December I wrote a column suggesting the state’s deal with Foxconn was dead. The reason was simple: Foxconn was out of compliance “in many different ways” with the contract it signed with the state and was refusing to renegotiate it despite repeated requests by the Evers administration and Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation to do so.
Rather than renegotiate, which would have resulted in a massive cut in its subsidy, reflecting the massive reduction in the planned project, Foxconn decided to try and game the system. As Urban Milwaukee reported in March, the contract former Gov. Scott Walker created with Foxconn included a huge loophole. The company could hire hundreds of employees on a short-term basis, get the state tax credits for capital expenditures and then lay off the workers.
The story also makes clear that none of the employees were hired to work on any actual project, because Foxconn has yet to figure out what it can manufacture successfully in Wisconsin. The company has considered the following businesses, The Verge reported: fish farms, exporting ice cream, storing boats, cosmetics, designer handbags, gaming teams, dairy exports, and a project involving “camera-festooned autonomous vehicles.” For some reason the story left out my favorite, airport coffee kiosks.
In response to the story, Foxconn founder Terry Gou released a press release declaring the company will “continue to work… to create more jobs” and “has pressed forward with its Wisconsin plans.” Except that Gou stepped down as head of the company back in January 2019 and while he still serves on the company’s board, is no longer the spokesperson for the company.
Yet the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, in one of its funniest headlines ever, featured the press release in a story announcing that “Foxconn says its commitment to Wisconsin ‘has not wavered’ though its plans have changed.” And what exactly are those “plans”? The story didn’t explain.
The Verge reporter Josh Dzieza suggests Foxconn has stayed because the company doesn’t want to disappoint President Donald Trump, who has been a huge proponent of Foxconn, tying the project to his promise to bring back manufacturing to middle America. If so, Foxconn would be leaving Wisconsin next month should Trump lose the election.
But I have my doubts. I think what’s keeping Foxconn here is a contract it signed with Mount Pleasant and Racine County, where the company’s supposed “manufacturing” plant — in September the company received a permit to change its intended use to “storage” — is located.
Local officials went all out for the project. Mount Pleasant’s annual budget is just over $15 million, yet in late 2017 the village and Racine County (whose budget was $151.6 million that year) jointly approved a figure 50 times higher than the village’s budget — $764 million in spending — for land acquisition, road construction and new infrastructure. Some 42 miles of water pipes, 26 miles of gas pipes and 28 miles of telecom wires were constructed, all for what was supposed to be a 20-million-square-foot manufacturing plant and is now a 1.1-million-square-foot storage facility.
In short the company is required to pay that $30 million in taxes a year, even if it isn’t manufacturing anything, or making any money at the plant. Right now, given all the plans and products it has considered and rejected. its main way of making money would seem to be getting tax credits from the state. Except that the administration of Gov. Tony Evers has made clear it won’t fall for this.
What if Foxconn folds up its tent and leaves town? Then the village would have to go to court to try and enforce the contract. That could result in a protracted legal battle, which wouldn’t help Foxconn the next time it tries to do a deal in the U.S. or any other westernized country.
The irony is that local officials were far tougher than Walker, who gave Foxconn anything it wanted, including a giant loophole that allowed it to get tax credits even if no real jobs were created. But it’s that tougher, smarter local government contract that’s preventing Foxconn from leaving, and Wisconsin from closing the chapter on what is surely the biggest business fiasco in state history.
If you think stories like this are important, become a member of Urban Milwaukee and help support real, independent journalism. Plus you get some cool added benefits, all detailed here.
- UW-Madison Hires Former Foxconn Executive - Rich Kremer - Apr 5th, 2022
- Nelson Calls on Congressional Oversight Committees to Pursue Information on Botched Foxconn-Oshkosh Defense Postal Deal - Tom Nelson - Mar 30th, 2022
- Foxconn Rebuffed Oshkosh Defense Bid to Build Mail Trucks? - Rich Kremer - Mar 28th, 2022
- Huge Foxconn Campus Remains A Puzzle - Denise Lockwood - Mar 28th, 2022
- Mount Pleasant Seeks Company for Foxconn Site - Bridgit Bowden - Mar 24th, 2022
- Rep. Bowen Statement on Foxconn Turning Its Back on Wisconsin Yet Again - State Rep. David Bowen - Mar 17th, 2022
- Back in the News: Foxconn In Talks for Saudi Arabian Plant - Bruce Murphy - Mar 16th, 2022
- Mt Pleasant Attorney Pushed Board to Extend Term Lengths - Corri Hess - Mar 9th, 2022
- As Foxconn Fails, Mt. Pleasant Board Extends Term Lengths - Corri Hess - Mar 1st, 2022
- Food-Coloring Business Will Lease Foxconn Building - Christine Hatfield - Feb 5th, 2022
Read more about Foxconn Facility here