The Wisconsin Economic Development Corps is a public-private hybrid company that was established in 2011 by former Gov. Scott Walker. Its goal — in addition to replacing the Department of Commerce — was to distribute and oversee grants and loans to upstarts in exchange for a promise to stimulate the Wisconsin economy by creating jobs and generating revenue.
The biggest accomplishment of the WEDC during Walker’s tenure was the infamous Foxconn deal of 2017. There was no better way to forward his reelection campaign in 2018 than to make what could have been a record-breaking deal of $4.1 billion dollars in taxpayer subsidies — $3 billion in state credits and $1 billion in local subsidies — with Foxconn to build a massive LCD factory in Racine County with the promise of creating 13,000 jobs. Foxconn would receive their subsidies, and, if their negotiated amount exceeds what they have to pay in taxes, Wisconsin is prepared to hand them millions in cash.
Construction, however, has not gone according to plan. They have to break ground yet in 2020, the same year they first agreed upon the opening of the plant. Not only the timing, but the nature of the plant has been disputed as well, with talks over whether or not it will even be an LCD factory.
Foxconn didn’t hit its goals in 2018 or 2019 for job creation and therefore does not qualify for the subsidies agreed upon. Further, its lack of progress created an impasse over the contract that went back and forth for quite some time.
In comes Missy Hughes.
Melissa “Missy” Hughes was appointed in October 2019 to serve as CEO/Secretary of the WEDC. She has pledged to take politics out of the job and establish as much transparency as possible so Wisconsonites know where their taxes are going. This appointee was a relief to many Wisconsin voters who were afraid Gov. Evers was going to follow through with his campaign promise to cut funding for the WEDC, which seemed to be mishandling this deal with Foxconn.
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Hughes is a strong advocate for entrepreneurs in rural areas and is excited to work with the new Office of Rural Prosperity — created by Evers per executive order — in focusing on Wisconsin farmers’ success in the global economy.
In an interview with CBS 58 in early February, she said people know more about tax incentives now because of Foxconn. People are learning from this experience. Hughes’ WEDC is also tasked with eventual renegotiation with Foxconn because of the company’s shortcomings in job creation.
Hughes is taking a very realistic approach to the debacle with Foxconn. What seemed to be an innovative plan meant to put Wisconsin ahead of the other Midwestern states has turned out to so far paint itself as a poorly constructed deal that takes more from Wisconsin than it gives.
But that doesn’t mean Hughes is ready to abandon the opportunity ahead of Wisconsinites.
Hughes recognizes the possibility of a thriving economy around the development of the Foxconn plant but is prioritizing Wisconsin taxpayers and transparency with their money. There is an incredible advantage of setting politics aside and focusing on what is important rather than partisan disputes.
Hughes is ready to lift the economy with the authentic strength Wisconsin farmers have and make moves on real change in rural areas. State Senator Jeff Smith, D-Eau Claire, writes that the new office within the agency will focus on the expansion of broadband, accessible healthcare and housing availability in rural areas.
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The WEDC, under Hughes’ leadership, is bursting with potential due to her clear vision of success and undeniable faith in Wisconsin constituents.
“The most valuable resource that Wisconsin has [is] its people … The communities that our citizens create and the quality of life for raising families and for running your business with super hard-working people and innovation, it’s our best resource,” Hughes said.
Kaitlin Kons ([email protected]) is a sophomore studying political science and public policy.