RACINE COUNTY — With the announcement on Wednesday from tech giant Foxconn about building a facility in southeast Wisconsin, area educators are looking to see how they can train students for jobs at the company.
The Racine Unified School District, along with the Burlington Area School District, Gateway Technical College and the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, hope to fill the employment demand with qualified candidates.
Foxconn, a Taiwan-based company, will build a liquid-crystal display factory in the area as part of a $10 billion capital investment. The location of where the facility will be located has not been announced.
The company plans to employ up to 13,000 people at its facility.
Dan Thielen, chief of secondary school transformation for Unified, said the Academies of Racine, an initiative to get high school students thinking about a career after they graduate, curriculum prepares students for jobs through internships, apprenticeships and other hands-on experiences through partnerships with businesses.
“It’s being able to help with local manufactures to help outfit our schools with the latest and greatest equipment,” Thielen said. “The fact of the matter is we’re educating students for jobs that don’t exist yet.”
With Foxconn coming to the area, Thielen said the district has an opportunity to make another connection as they have with other local businesses.
“We’re here to support them and it’s good for the whole community,” Thielen said. “It’s going to provide so many opportunities for this region.”
Bryan Albrecht, president and CEO of Gateway Technical College, said with degrees in programs like mechatronics, Gateway students can be in a position to fill some jobs when the plant plans to be operational in 2020.
“We’re taking a look at all the programs that we offer so that we fill the needs of the current workforce but also what the future workforce needs,” Albrecht said. “We think it’s going to have a dramatic impact.”
Other programs like hotel management and culinary arts might also see a boost if the area has an influx of people.
“All of those programs will be impacted by people coming to our community,” Albrecht said. “We’re so pleased that southeastern Wisconsin is looked at as one of the premier places to work. This is one more example of the innovation that can happen as a result of providing a really solid educational program.”
Gary Wood, vice provost for the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, said the university already has the infrastructure to partner with businesses and accommodate what they’re looking for.
“We’re good at making connections with local businesses and finding what they need, finding out what they’re about, what jobs are available, who they’re looking for,” Wood said.
At the moment, Wood said, it’s unclear what specific jobs will be available at the new facility but considering Foxconn’s place in the technology industry, UW-Parkside is prepared to train software developers and engineers.
“It is a tech company,” Wood said. “We have that (technology) alignment if that’s what the need is.”
Impact on schools
Burlington Area School District Assistant Superintendent Connie Zinnen said the district will continue educate students the best they can.
“I think our commitment remains the same if Foxconn is here or not,” Zinnen said. “We want to send students into the workforce for whatever job is out there.”
Zinnen said the possible growth of residents could have a benefit to fill some of the schools.
“We’ve been a declining enrolling district in the last few years,” Zinnen said. “We have the potential for student growth… it certainly could have an impact on the enrollment. We have the facilities to have students.”
Recently, BASD had three referendums voted down that would have improved and built some facilities.
Zinnen said if more families started enrolling their children in the district as a result of Foxconn coming to the area the “conversation could change” regarding using taxpayer money to improve facilities.
“We would love to welcome new families to Burlington if Foxconn does bring people to the area,” Zinnen said.
With a likely influx of people to work at Foxconn and other companies that will spring up or expand, may welcome the need for more schools, said Racine Unified School District Chief Operating Officer Dave Hazen.
But Hazen pointed out that if local governments assist Foxconn by creating a tax increment district to cover the infrastructure costs, as seems likely, it would be years before the additional taxes generated by the new construction would flow to taxing entities such as Unified and Racine County.
“How do we finance growth?” Hazen said. “There will be demand (for services) before we will have the tax dollars.
“I would like to think — and I would like to be part of this — local governments will put together a planning committee to plan for this.”
Journal Times reporter Mick Burke contributed to this story.