One Year Later, Residents Question Foxconn Commitment - NBC Chicago

One Year Later, Residents Question Foxconn Commitment

President Trump said it would be the "8th Wonder of the World." But one year later, some Wisconsin residents say they aren't convinced they'll ever see the promised investment by the electronics giant Foxconn.

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    Residents Reflect on FoxConn Groundbreaking

    On today's NBC 5 Investigates, President Donald Trump touted Wisconsin's FoxConn plant as the "eighth wonder of the world." The factory was supposed to bring new life to Mount Pleasant, but a year later, little has been done. NBC 5's Phil Rogers has the story. 

    (Published Friday, June 28, 2019)

    When he helped them break ground one year ago, President Donald Trump promised Foxconn’s new Wisconsin plant would be the "Eighth wonder of the world."

    Now, some residents are beginning to ask if any of that "wonder" will really materialize.

    "When it was first happening, I was very excited about it, because it was going to bring great jobs, just greatness to the area,” said Mount Pleasant resident Kelly Rindahl. "They were offering the American dream. Now they’re not!"

    The Taiwanese industrial giant is the biggest electronics manufacturer in the world. The Racine County plant was promised as a $10 billion high-tech campus, which would eventually employ 13,000 workers making high-resolution LCD screens. The State of Wisconsin backed it with billions of dollars in tax breaks.

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    President Donald Trump came to Wisconsin touting thousands of new jobs at a Foxxconn plant, but he also faced tough questions about whether a new trade war is forcing Harley Davidson to move jobs overseas. NBC 5's Mary Ann Ahern reports. 

    (Published Thursday, June 28, 2018)

    But almost immediately, the scope of the project changed. The giant screens which were to be the main product manufactured in the facility would have required a companion Corning glass plant which never materialized. Foxconn changed its own plans, downsizing to a "Generation 6" plant which would make smaller screens for more compact devices.

    "I think it sucks," said Ronald Hoegsted, who gave up his home in an eminent-domain sale designed to clear land for the sprawling facility.  "I guess what they are, are liars!"

    At one point in January, Foxconn’s chief Terry Gou said flat-out that the television factory was a dead idea.

    "In terms of TV, we have no place in the U.S.," he told Reuters. "We can’t compete."

    But 48 hours later, he reversed that position.

    "After productive discussions between the White House and the company…Foxconn is moving forward with our planned construction of a Gen 6 fab facility," the company said in a statement. "This campus will serve both as an advanced manufacturing facility, as well as a hub of high technology innovation for the region."

    Backers stress the state won’t be on the hook for the billions it promised the company if Foxconn fails to deliver. Already the manufacturer failed to hit its first hiring goal and lost out on the breaks promised in the first year.

    This month, the company broke ground on what it says will be a facility with a million square feet, with 1,500 people on the job by the end of 2020. But the agreement they signed with the state promised more than 5,000 jobs by that same deadline.

    "This state got snookered," said former gubernatorial candidate Matt Flynn.  "We really got taken to the cleaners on this!"

    Supporters of the plant stress that it already is on track to be the biggest taxpayer in Racine County. And that the incentives were always intended as a "pay-as-you-go" plan, where tax breaks would kick in as the buildout continues.

    "If we hadn’t seen the trailer, we would love the movie," said Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce.  "That will still be the largest foreign investment that we’ve ever had in this region."

    Sheehy argues that even if the project stopped where it is now, 1,500 jobs are nothing to sneeze at, and that no one is out any money.

    "We’re not backing a dump truck up and dumping cash in their laps by any means," he said.

    Asked if the smaller footprint bodes poorly for ever seeing the grandiose plans Foxconn promised, Sheehy suggested he’s taking a wait-and-see approach.

    "I think it makes it more challenging to see a future of 13,000 jobs," he conceded.  "But I don’t have a good enough crystal ball to say that’s not happening."

    Foxconn did not respond to NBC 5’s inquiries about the current scope of the project, potential hiring or exactly what the plant would be producing. Flynn, the former candidate for governor, suggested a political surprise is right around the corner.

    "They are basically waiting until after the 2020 election," he said.  "Donald Trump brokered this, and I don’t trust him at all and this is never going to happen."