Bruce Murphy
Murphy’s Law

The Foxconn Real Estate Show

There are now four buildings on Mount Pleasant campus. But what exactly are they for?

By - Feb 25th, 2021 04:44 pm
Ceremonial groundbreaking at the Foxconn campus in Mount Pleasant. Photo from The White House.

Ceremonial groundbreaking at the Foxconn campus in Mount Pleasant. Photo from The White House.

More than three and a half years after Foxconn signed a memorandum with Gov. Scott Walker promising to turn Racine County into the Silicon Valley of Wisconsin, the company still isn’t manufacturing anything. Other than press releases. 

But it continues to put up buildings. As one Foxconn employee told The Verge, in describing the utter failure of the project in Racine County: “When you’re desperate and you have no product to sell and the only asset you have is land, what can you do? You build on it or you grow crops on it.” 

So far there have been no crops cultivated by Foxconn, though the company has considered trying fish farming, tree farming and dairy exports — before rejecting those ideas, The Verge reported — with all the land it was handed by Mount Pleasant and Racine County, as The Verge reported. Which leaves only the option of building on the property, to give the impression that something is going on. 

The company’s original promise was to create 20 million square feet of manufacturing, prompting former President Donald Trump to dub the project “the eighth wonder of the world.” Alas, it has fallen far short, at about 2% of the promised footprint. But it has created four different buildings that some day may be useful for something. The list includes:

(1) The Multipurpose Building. The 120,000-square-foot building is the first structure built on the campus by Foxconn, in 2018, probably to show some progress as Walker ran for reelection and the company began changing its mind about what it might manufacture. The general contractor for the building was joint venture of M+W Group and Gilbane Building Co., and Foxconn declared that 37 contractors in the state were hired to help build it. As for its purpose: “It will house research and development facilities focusing on advanced display technology and applications in all aspects of smart lives,” the company said, and “will contribute to the development of the AI 8K+5G ecosystem that Foxconn is building across the Badger State.” None of that has happened, either in Mount Pleasant or across the state. But this building has been the main site of what little activity has happened on the campus. 

(2) The Fab. This was supposed to be the big one. Foxconn had promised a Gen 10.5 fabrication manufacturing facility, then cut that down to a Gen 6 fabrication facility. Ground was broken for the facility in the summer of 2018 and then the delays began. One year later the company announced that Foxconn and its construction manager, Gilbane | Exyte “began the concrete foundations and footing pour for the 988,999 square-foot” facility that would become “the first and only thin-film-transistor liquid-crystal display (TFT-LCD) advanced manufacturing facility in North America.” 

But as Urban Milwaukee reported, the building being constructed couldn’t be a Gen 6 fabrication plant, because it was one-story building constructed on a compressed gravel base with a price tag of a couple hundred million, nothing at all like past Gen 6 plants in the world, which feature a building several stories high, with a structural steel base and a cost in the neighborhood of $5 billion.

In January 2020 the company announced it had completed the roof installation and weathertight enclosure  of the building in a press release that now described it as an “Advanced Manufacturing Center.” There was no mention of LCD fabrication. Nor was there any mention of what might be manufactured there. It remains little more than an empty shell.

(3) Smart Manufacturing Center. In September 2019, Foxconn announced it had selected Mortenson to serve as Construction Manager for a Smart Manufacturing Center it would build. The 260,000-square-foot facility “will be a high-mix, low-to-medium volume production facility that primarily manufactures components for server racks,” a company new release promised. Some 16 months later the company announced that “vertical construction and steel placement is underway” for the facility. But the building now had an added purpose: “to further attract business partnerships within the WVSTP,” or Wisconn Valley Science and Technology Park. as Foxconn has dubbed its Mount Pleasant campus. 

Have any of those partnerships happened? Well, Foxconn announced it would be making airport coffee houses with the Briggo company back in September 2019, but nothing has come of that. And in April 2020 Foxconn announced it would be making ventilators in a partnership with Medtronic, with a with a goal of manufacturing 400 ventilators per week by the end of April and 700 per week by May 2020. But last week Medtronic told reporter Ricardo Torres the deal was off due to a “lack of demand.”

As for those data server racks, Foxconn promised they were coming in a November 2020 Op Ed at the same time it appears to have floated a rumor it would be building these for Google. But Google never confirmed this and there is still no announced partner for this, or for any other project at the Smart Manufacturing Center. 

(4) The Globe. In September 2019 Foxconn announced it would build a nine-story circular office building reminiscent of Epcot’s iconic Spaceship Earth building at the entrance of its Orlando theme park. One day later Foxconn announced it wasn’t going to build this. Whoops. Bad start. 

Less than a month later the company announced the project was on. To be designed by Eppstein Uhen Architects, the globe would be 100-feet high, with a steel structure covered by 642 pieces of glass. It would include a 240-seat auditorium area on its first floor, board rooms, and third-floor office space with about 40 work stations. It would also include a Network Operations Center, from which Foxconn would control the computing resources including 5G networks, cloud computing, and industrial artificial intelligence, across the eventual Wisconn Valley technology park. In short, tts purpose is entirely dependent on something happening in the other buildings. And nothing is.

Foxconn’s latest announcement, reported by the Wall Street Journal, is that it will partner with the California startup company Fisker to build electric cars. While it’s assumed the cars would be built at Mount Pleasant, Foxconn has yet to confirm that it will. Not to mention that the electric car business has become incredibly competitive and anything but a sure prospect for a startup company. And in any case the production is not expected to happen until the fourth quarter of 2023 — more than six years after Foxconn signed its MOU with Walker. 

Given that none of its buildings are manufacturing anything, why does Foxconn keep adding more facilities? Because its contract with Mount Pleasant and Racine County requires that Foxconn create at least $1.4 billion in new property value by Jan. 1, 2023. And its last assessment, in January 2020, showed the total value of all its property at $260.6 million. 

Which I guess means we’ll continue to see more real estate announcements, adding more unneeded buildings to the most unnecessary manufacturing campus in the world. 

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One thought on “Murphy’s Law: The Foxconn Real Estate Show”

  1. Mingus says:

    With 3.2 billion dollars in taxpayers money invested and nothing happing, there needs to be an investigation. This taxpayer ripoff is either a product of intentional misrepresentation by Foxconn, malfeasance by the Republican officials who negotiated the contract, or some entity bribing State officials. One can also wonder if there was some future payback for Trump’s business dealings in China.

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