RACINE — In order to have the most up-to-date information on Foxconn Technology Group’s projects in the state, officials of Gov. Tony Evers’ administration have had weekly conference calls with top executives at the company.
State Revenue Secretary Peter Barca told The Journal Times Editorial Board on Monday that he; Joel Brennan, secretary of administration-designate; and Mark Hogan, secretary of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., speak regularly with Foxconn officials.
“They’ve been very candid with us, which is nice, in terms of sharing with us (information about) things that are coming up,” Barca said about Foxconn officials.
Barca said Louis Woo, the special assistant to Foxconn CEO and Chairman Terry Gou, and other company officials are planning to travel to Wisconsin next week to discuss their projects.
It was unclear Tuesday if any Foxconn officials will have public or media availability during their visit.
“Some of the stuff they tell us they want to keep confidential for competitive reasons,” Barca said of the weekly conference calls. “So I can’t really say anything beyond that … and I don’t want to give you the wrong impression; it’s not like there is a lot more than what I’ve told you, but there are some steps that they are taking now that might prove to be a positive.”
In January, the company announced it made an “adjustment,” which has drawn criticism, in its plans in Wisconsin based on the “global market environment.”
But Barca said the company has assured state officials that they remain committed to creating up to 13,000 jobs in the state and the development in Mount Pleasant is moving forward.
For Barca, the company’s decision to move from manufacturing large screens to smaller screens here has not shaken his confidence in the future of the project. He pointed to Foxconn’s investments in other parts of the state, along with investments in the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a partnership in a venture capital fund with Advocate Aurora Health, Johnson Controls and Northwestern Mutual as evidence of the company’s commitment to the state.
“I think their intent is clear,” Barca said. “Obviously you don’t make those kind of investments if it’s not going to occur.”
‘Political price to pay’
One of the main questions some residents have with the Foxconn development in Racine County is: If the company continues to shift its plans, will there be advanced manufacturing jobs available for blue-collar workers? If so, how many?
Former Gov. Scott Walker pushed the idea that Wisconsin would become a new manufacturing center for the 21st century, saying the state would build the products designed in Silicon Valley.
Barca said he would prefer that Foxconn stick to having a high number of advanced-manufacturing jobs in Racine County, but added that having people trained at Gateway Technical College would be good for businesses regardless of how many jobs Foxconn creates.
“Let’s just say at the worst-case scenario, somehow they don’t build a manufacturing plant, which I do not at all think is going to happen,” Barca said. “But if it didn’t happen, the fact that we’ve trained people for these advanced-manufacturing jobs tells me that workforce is the biggest issue for businesses.”
Having people trained in advanced manufacturing, Barca said, would serve the state well.
Before joining Evers’ cabinet, Barca served in the state Assembly, and for most of his tenure served as minority leader. He was one of a few Democrats to vote in favor of the $2.85 billion tax incentive package to help lure Foxconn to Wisconsin.
Because of that vote, Barca said, he had a “political price to pay” and was replaced as minority leader by state Rep. Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh.
Barca said: “I told my caucus, ‘You want me to put my party before my home communities, where I grew up and where I’m going to retire?’ I said ‘It’ll never happen.’ ”
Barca’s department oversees the tax credits distributed to Foxconn and other companies.