RACINE COUNTY — In an interview published by the Reuters news service last week, Louis Woo, special assistant to Foxconn CEO and Chairman Terry Gou, said Foxconn is planning on scaling back the manufacturing side of its Mount Pleasant project.
According to the report, Woo said that Foxconn anticipates that three-quarters of the jobs created for the campus will be in research and development and design. But on Friday, Foxconn clarified that manufacturing would indeed comprise a major component of the Wisconn Valley campus development in Mount Pleasant.
“Foxconn is moving forward with our planned construction of a Gen 6 fab facility, which will be at the heart of the Wisconn Valley Science and Technology Park,” according to a statement from the company. “This campus will serve both as an advanced manufacturing facility as well as a hub of high technology innovation for the region.”
Foxconn may not ultimately create as many manufacturing positions as many originally hoped, which could discourage those who had hoped the development would provide a pathway for some local residents to become trained, employed and lift themselves and their communities out of poverty.
But many still see the development and training programs it’s inspired as avenues to greater job opportunities for Racine County residents.
Building beyond Foxconn
Racine Mayor Cory Mason said the training programs at First Choice Pre-Apprenticeship Program in particular are focused on construction. On Friday, Foxconn released a statement that the company is still committed to building a $10 billion facility and the City of Racine Water Utility is still contracted to extend water and sewer to the Foxconn site and areas along Interstate 94.
Mason said he’s also heard from construction companies that, on top of a current shortage of skilled workers, about one-third of their workforce are scheduled to retire over the next decade.
“Foxconn is the opportunity to get people into that, but its not just to do a project and be done,” said Mason. “It’s to do a project, gain a lot of skills, maybe become a journeyman and then you’ve got a career for as long as you want to do it.”
Mason said the goal is to have multiple pathways to steady, middle-class jobs that people who have been out of work or gone through re-training can access.
“We need to create as many on-ramps as possible, whether it’s into the building trades for people who are going to build these things or for Foxconn people who are going to be there, but also with our existing companies here,” said Mason. “They’re also concerned about a shortage in the workforce.”
Looking to legacy companies
For those who had planned to work at Foxconn in manufacturing, Bryan Albrecht, Gateway Technical College’s president and CEO, pointed out that legacy companies in Racine, such as Twin Disc, InSinkerator, and Modine, also are looking for people with those skills.
“Foxconn, along with many other employers, supports the advanced manufacturing pathway around Industry 4.0 knowledge and skills,” Albrecht stated in an email. “Manufacturing and engineering technical career paths require graduates to have a solid base of industrial controls, robotics, mechatronics and smart sensor technologies. Gateway’s new programs in advanced manufacturing support these new workforce requirement.”
Albrecht said that last week’s announcement will not affect the college’s relationship with Foxconn.
“Gateway will continue to design, develop and implement education and training programs that align with the needs of local employers,” said Albrecht. “Our partnership with Foxconn has not changed.”
Pastor Melvin Hargrove, project manager for Uplift 900, said the program’s focus has always been to connect job seekers with existing companies.
“Even before Foxconn came to the area, we were already short employees to fill positions in our current businesses,” said Hargrove.
UW-Parkside Chancellor Debbie Ford said that, regardless of Foxconn’s current needs, they will continue to train students who can adapt to changes in the global market.
“Foxconn will require a wide range of talent, which must possess the critical-thinking skills and flexibility to adapt to the changing demands of the organization. Flexibility and adaptability are at the foundation of a UW-Parkside education,” Ford wrote in a statement. “Our bold goal for 2025 is to increase the number of graduates by 50 percent to help meet the accelerated demand for talent in our region, which we will see from both new and established businesses and organizations.”
Space for everyone
The 2013-2017 American Community Survey estimated that the City of Racine’s median income at $42,590.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that in 2016, the median salary for engineers was $91,010. The average pay for electrical engineers was $94,210, for electronics engineers (except for computer engineers) the salary was $92,210 and for computer hardware engineers it was $115,080.
As Mason said in his budget address, the city aims to be the “community of choice” for Foxconn employees. But now that Foxconn has said the majority of its employees will be engineers, and given the income disparity, how can the city accommodate those workers without displacing current residents?
“I anticipate it’ll have some pressure there,” said Mason. “I certainly wouldn’t want to draw the conclusion that we don’t want 10,000 engineers to move to the community ... I think we would welcome that opportunity.”
One way the city has approached the issue is by developing a variety of housing, from the affordable to market rate, to fit a variety of income levels.
“It’s really not an either/or question — you have to do both,” said Mason. “You have to address the workforce and housing needs of the people that are here and you have to address the workforce and housing needs of the people who may come.”
As for whether Foxconn’s changes have made him wary of the project, Mason said that as long as the company doesn’t walk back its promise of a $10 billion facility and 13,000 employees, he’s willing to give them the benefit of the doubt.
“Remember, this is a company that started making Atari joysticks a long time ago,” said Mason. “They don’t make those anymore because they’ve been savvy enough to evolve as the market changes. And so we want them to have that flexibility.”
This story has been updated since publication to clarify Foxconn's plans for its campus.
“We need to create as many on-ramps as possible, whether it’s into the building trades for people who are going to build these things or for Foxconn people who are going to be there, but also with our existing companies here. They’re also concerned about a shortage in the workforce.” Racine Mayor Cory Mason