RACINE COUNTY — With the Foxconn Technology Group set to begin building a massive facility to produce liquid crystal display screens for Apple products, details about its location and local impact aren’t widely known.
The legislature passed a $2.85 billion incentive package, signed Monday into law by Gov. Scott Walker, that provides tax credits to Foxconn if the company meets certain benchmarks.
The Journal Times asked local legislators state Rep. Cory Mason, D-Racine; Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester; and state Sen. Van Wanggaard, R-Racine, about what will happen locally once Foxconn arrives.
The responses are listed in alphabetical order. State Rep. Tom Weatherston, R-Caledonia, declined to participate.
What will happen if some owners of property Foxconn needs refuse to sell?
Mason: Foxconn has stated it needs more than 1,000 acres to build their campus. Some people will be willing to sell; others will not. It will be up to Foxconn to acquire the land for their campus.
Vos: Nothing in the Foxconn legislation alters current law dealing with eminent domain. Local governments have the ability to work with property owners to come to an agreement.
Wanggaard: Nothing, although those property owners may end up on an island. Foxconn has been working with local landowners for several months. There is nothing in the bill that expands eminent domain, or anything similar. Whether or not individual property owners sell their property to Foxconn is their decision alone.
What portion of the jobs do you think will be filled by Racine County residents? What is being done to incentivize local hiring?
Mason: The number of jobs that will be held by people from Racine largely depends on how quickly we can prepare our workforce. We must take advantage of the more than $15 million set aside in the Foxconn bill for worker training.
Vos: In the Foxconn legislation, lawmakers provided $20 million to help train Wisconsin workers for these careers. Our workers will stand to benefit due to the proximity to the project alone and from the training that will be available, which our technical colleges and universities are going to provide.
Wanggaard: I suspect that a good portion of Foxconn’s employees will come from Racine County, and probably an equal number from Kenosha County. As with other large employers, I also believe that many Foxconn employees, regardless of where they live now, will relocate to the immediate area once they begin working at Foxconn.
The Racine area has a well-known job skills gap. How will that be overcome so residents here can get and keep jobs with Foxconn?
Mason: Foxconn coming to the area means a much-needed increase in funding for apprenticeships and technical degrees. Gateway Technical College and UW-Parkside will be critical partners in educating engineers and computer science professionals.
Vos: The legislation that was signed into law provides $20 million to help train Wisconsin workers for these careers. I am pleased that our technical colleges and universities are working to provide the necessary training for these types of positions.
Wanggaard: The skills gap is not just a Foxconn issue — it is an issue for employers across the state. We’re constantly looking to close that gap and matching skills to jobs. I know Foxconn is already working with Gateway Technical College, UW-Parkside and Community Action Programs to fill their needs.
What environmental protections/oversight will be in place, and how will that situation be monitored?
Mason: The environmental exemptions given to Foxconn in the incentives bill are just lousy. However, all the environmental protections around the operation of the plant under state and federal law remain in place for water, discharge, and air quality. We must be dogged in ensuring that the environment is not destroyed in the process of Foxconn coming here.
Vos: No environmental laws are changed. These are the same protections and oversight of our natural resources as the rest of the state. The Legislature also reinforced the DNR oversight while eliminating any duplicative processes.
Wanggaard: No environmental standards or enforcement mechanisms are changed for Foxconn. All current environmental protections remain in place. As with any project, the DNR, EPA, OSHA, and Army Corps of Engineers, along with others, will be monitoring the project for compliant with current law.
After Interstate 94 is widened, will that be enough to handle commuters to 13,000 new direct Foxconn jobs and 22,000 predicted indirect jobs?
Mason: If I-94 is widened, it will easily handle any incoming workforce. If we do the necessary work to skill up our people, the workforce won’t need to commute; they will come from right here.
Vos: I am pleased to see that the needed improvements to the I-94 North/South were included in the project. Hopefully, the reconstruction of the Interstate will also help attract new businesses and allow current ones to grow.
Wanggaard: We know that the current roadway on I-94 is not able handle the amount of traffic currently. The expansion of I-94 is designed for the future, however. Once a location is announced, I suspect DOT will need to re-evaluate specific interchanges and roadways that surround the facility.
Are you concerned about continuing discord on the Mount Pleasant Village Board when Foxconn appears likely to locate in that village?
Mason: I believe the Mount Pleasant Board will step up to the plate for the people of this region.
Vos: It has been great working with the state and local officials on the Foxconn project. I know a massive opportunity like this one also may present challenges.
Wanggaard: The situation on the Mount Pleasant Village Board is concerning because of the impact it is having on the community, not just Foxconn. It is unfortunate that some members of the community cannot get past the last election. I look forward to a special election being held to fill the vacancy.
If Foxconn shut down its plant at some point, how could a 1,000-acre, 20 million-square-foot complex be redeveloped into another use? Would Foxconn be held responsible for selling or maintaining the structures?
Mason: I hope and expect Foxconn will be an employer in the area for many years. If they were to shut down their plant, reusable industrial and warehouse space near an interstate between Milwaukee and Chicago would be prime for redevelopment.
Vos: Our initial conversations with Foxconn officials focused on constructing a campus of buildings. The company, like any other in the state, must maintain the property in accordance to state and local laws. It’s my hope that the contract with state addresses the concern posed in the question.
Wanggaard: First, I do not believe this will be an issue. However, in the unlikely event that scenario comes true, the possibilities are limited only by the limits of creativity. Other employers could use the facility. The facility could be used by multiple companies for multiple purposes.