Foxconn Technology Group first fell into the American public’s eye after being heavily criticized by the media for their brutal, often dehumanizing working conditions. Recently, the Chinese manufacturing giant reentered the American spotlight, taking its first steps towards expanding operations into North American markets.
When Foxconn confirmed that it would be looking to establish manufacturing facilities in the U.S., states began to salivate at the opportunity to lure in the Eastern industrial titan which had long dominated China’s massive electronics manufacturing industry. Michigan was quick to offer the company roughly 3.8 billion in tax incentives in a bid to attract the tech giant. States like Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas were also being considered.
But ultimately, it was Wisconsin that managed to reel in Foxconn’s signature.
With a tantalizing offer of over three billion in tax incentives, Wisconsin was promised a dazzling state of the art manufacturing facility as well as a host of “innovation centers” scattered about the state. President Trump considered the proposed manufacturing facility a massive victory, hailing the future factory as “the eighth wonder of the world.” At the time, it seemed Wisconsin had secured their position as ground zero for the revival of domestic American manufacturing.
Fast forward to the present day, and the 13,000 new jobs Foxconn promised have yet to materialize. The company has invested in properties throughout the state, including a seven-story office building in Milwaukee and an older manufacturing facility in downtown Milwaukee.
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But despite the establishment of such locations, Foxconn only employs roughly 520 people in the United States — significantly less than originally proposed. It seems the once-promising deal has manifested itself as little more than a host of buildings filled with nothing but empty promises. In response to questions regarding their lack of progress in Wisconsin, Foxconn officials have repeatedly declined to comment.
Originally, the proposed plant was to be an LCD screen manufacturing facility. But, plans for the facility are now up in the air after Foxconn stated the plant may be used to produce any number of products from server racks to robotic coffee kiosks. Foxconn’s uncertainty as to the future of the factory has lead to questions regarding the continuing validity of their contract, is a robotic coffee kiosk plant worth the billions in tax credit originally agreed upon?
Observing the increasingly hazy future of Milwaukee’s next manufacturing powerhouse as well as the undefined purpose of Foxconn’s “innovation centers,” Wisconsin officials have pressed Foxconn to sit down for a renegotiation, threatening to pull tax incentives if terms are not re-discussed. In response, or rather in retaliation, Foxconn responded to requests with relative silence, accompanied by a clear sentiment that they still intend to file for tax benefits.
Foxconn broke their silence through a short letter issued to the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, requesting that the company receive tax subsidies under the original contract regardless of the plant’s intended function. Since issuing said correspondence, Foxconn has taken the stance that their right to file for subsidies is not contingent upon what sort of facility they construct. The apparent instability of the contract at hand has led some to question whether or not a legal scuffle between the state and Foxconn may be afoot.
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Since 2019, the company has stated its intent to focus further efforts on its innovation centers in Green Bay and Racine, both of which have been vaguely advertised as centers to promote entrepreneurship. Foxconn’s innovation centers will supposedly aim to recruit from local universities, a mission that is poised to benefit University of Wisconsin system graduates. But much like the rest of Foxconn’s American endeavor, the innovation centers have been shrouded with skepticism.
“Best case, they build out the initial proposal of this innovation center with, you know, 200-plus employees,” Green Bay Director of Development Kevin Vonck said. “Worst case … they don’t do anything at all and become an absentee landlord.”
So, as questions regarding the future of Foxconn’s American activities pile up, we have to wonder whether the Chinese giant has any plans to shift its efforts towards the American market or whether their arrival was more or less a political stunt. As of now, the agreement sits in a strange sort of limbo, with development creeping along not only at a questionable pace, but also in a questionable direction.
Over the course of Foxconn’s relationship with the state of Wisconsin, very little discernible benefit has surfaced. Yet, the state continues to pursue the Chinese megacorporation’s business.
The entire scenario naturally elicits a number of pertinent questions. Should the state of Wisconsin choose to oust Foxconn entirely? Should Wisconsin officials continue negotiations despite Foxconn’s avoidantly aggressive style of economic discussion? Does Foxconn even see the U.S. as a viable outlet for their business? Whether or not Foxconn is to blame for being a poor tenant, or if the state of Wisconsin is at fault for being economically inhospitable — this interaction stands to act as a precedent for the future movement of Chinese manufacturing onto American soil.
The president has framed Foxconn as a bastion of the American industry and a much-needed savior in the battle to retain domestic jobs. But so far, Wisconsin has had to bear the burden of a massive corporation that may or may not hold up their end of the deal.
John Grindal ([email protected]) is a freshman studying computer science and neurobiology.