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Foxconn twiddles thumbs over high-tech Wisconsin ‘innovation centres’

Image credit: REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque

A report from Wisconsin Public Radio (WPR) has found that the electronics manufacturing giant has made very little progress on its much-anticipated Wisconsin engineering hub.

In 2017, Governor Scott Walker announced a deal with Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn to build a $10bn plant in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin. Foxconn – the world’s largest consumer electronics manufacturing service, manufacturing products for Apple, Amazon, Microsoft, Nintendo and Blackberry – had promised to employ more than 13,000 locals to manufacture flat-screen TVs in Wisconsin in exchange for $3bn-$4.8bn in public subsidies.

The deal was celebrated by many, including President Donald Trump, as a victory for American manufacturing, although critics have argued that the vast cost of the project would exceed its benefits.

Foxconn later announced the creation of ‘innovation centres’ in Green Bay, Eau Claire, Racine, and Madison, with between 100 and 200 high-skilled jobs at each of these centres and more than 500 high-skilled jobs at its main Mount Pleasant centre. These jobs would include work developing applications for Foxconn’s ‘8K+5G’ technology.

While its Green Bay centre was meant to open in late 2018, there has been little progress made at the ‘Watermark’ building purchased in Green Bay last year. The development director for the centre, Kevin Vonck, told WPR that Foxconn was “re-evaluating [its] strategy throughout the state”. Vonck said that Foxconn was maintaining its Green Bay property and making some improvements, such as by considering work on a parking ramp.

Aaron White, economic development manager for Foxconn’s Eau Claire innovation centre, told WPR that the company had installed a heating, ventilation and air-conditioning system in one of the Eau Claire buildings, although “that’s been about the extent of it”. WPR found that no work had been done at all at Foxconn’s Racine centre.

Overall, the WPR investigation strongly suggests that Foxconn has made virtually no progress on its establishment of the five innovation centres.

Shannon Powell, a spokesperson for the Mayor of Racine, told WPR that: “Foxconn is focusing on the [Mount] Pleasant campus.”

Foxconn had initially planned to begin production at its Mount Pleasant plant by the end of 2020, although the past two years have been beset by uncertainty and changes to its plans. Among other disappointments, the company has reduced the planned number of jobs from 13,000 to 1,500, cut its planned size from 20 million square feet to one million square feet, and stated that it will no longer produce the LCD TV screens at the facility.

In recent weeks, Foxconn announced plans for a major data centre in Mount Pleasant, scrapped the plans, and re-announced the plans.

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