RACINE — Racine-area employers are viewing the incoming Foxconn Technology Group’s manufacturing campus as an opportunity for their own worker needs.
The Taiwanese electronics company plans to build a liquid crystal display panel plant in the Village of Mount Pleasant, where 13,000 new jobs will net the company $1.5 billion in tax credits. The deal has raised concerns around the state about who will fill those positions, given the workforce shortage in Wisconsin. But representatives of Racine businesses say even though Foxconn could create competition for employees, it views the development as positive for the area.
InSinkErator President Chad Severson said that one of the hiring hurdles in manufacturing in the U.S. is the lack of awareness of opportunities in the field.
“Sometimes the skilled trades don’t occur as an option right away for folks,” he said. “It’s a real educational issue that we have as a country, and I think the Racine area is no different in that regard.”
As of Sunday, InSinkErator had 25 open positions on its website at its Racine location, 4700 21st St., many of which require advanced manufacturing skills. Severson said Foxconn may be a valuable partner in drawing more qualified applicants to the area for those jobs.
“I’m optimistic that we’ll get the word out that southeast Wisconsin is a great place for a career, and I think we can get that word out together,” he said. “As the demand for skilled trades increases, there’s great careers and incomes to be earned and getting that message out is what we need to do.”
Brian French, CNH Industrial’s vice president for human resources in the NAFTA region, said he thinks the region will benefit from Foxconn as an employer, because it could be a magnet for future employees whom his company could hire. Foxconn employees may also move to the area with spouses and other family members who could become CNH’s employees.
CNH has operations in Racine and Mount Pleasant.
“I think it will be good for the employers, especially those that react well and make sure they provide a compelling reason for potential employees to come to you,” he said.
At Modine, Human Resources Vice President Brian Agen said he sees Foxconn’s plans as a boon for the community. The new development will help the community thrive, he said, which gives his company something to hype to potential hires.
Still, Agen said, he expects Foxconn to disrupt the labor market. He said Modine has not historically had a high turnover rate, but Foxconn may add competition for new employees.
“It’s going to be disruptive, no doubt,” he said. “It’s going to push companies to do the best they can to attract and retain good people. That’s a good thing for the marketplace.”
Modine, headquartered at 1500 DeKoven Ave., will continue its focus on offering a company culture employees enjoy, he said, and it may expand its searches for new employees further than Wisconsin and the Midwest.
The tactic is similar to the one Gov. Scott Walker announced in November to bring young workers to Wisconsin. He asked the Legislature for $6.8 million for a campaign to market Wisconsin outside the state to address workforce needs.
In a statement to The Journal Times, Department of Workforce Development Secretary Ray Allen said the state needs institutions to work together with employers to address workforce needs.
“Fortunately, Wisconsin has unprecedented alignment between workforce, economic development and educational systems, and a wealth of potential sources to ensure a robust talent pipeline into the future,” he stated.
‘What keeps you here’
Mayor Cory Mason told The Journal Times Editorial Board in a December interview that he doesn’t expect all of the jobs that open because of Foxconn to go to people who live in the city or county of Racine. The community needs to market itself so that those out-of-towners want to relocate to the area.
“The question becomes how do you make Racine an attractive place for people to want to come and live?” he said. “It’s not what brings you here. It’s what keeps you here.”
Mason said, however, he expects some of Foxconn’s employees to be people who work at existing businesses in the Racine area. The community needs to prepare for that possibility, he said, to ensure those businesses can maintain a workforce.
“The idea is that it’s a growing pie for everybody,” he said. “We don’t want to hurt incumbent businesses that have been here for decades, in some cases more than a century, by this opportunity.”
That’s a concern for employers such as Torben Christensen, the president and chief executive officer of Caledonia-based Wiscon Products. Christensen said he is personally excited about the impact he expects Foxconn to have on the area, but has concerns about what it will mean for staffing his business.
Racine County is in the process of implementing a new revolving loan fund through Racine County Economic Development Corporation for businesses that will be affected by Foxconn coming to the county, for better or for worse.
One of the applicable uses of the loan funds would be to offset the cost of raising wages or providing additional training to current employees. But Kate Walker, Gateway Technical College’s director of operations for business and workforce solutions, said that a big driver behind the formation of the loan was businesses wanting to invest in automation.
“Everyone is thinking about how do they develop plans for automation,” she said. “It’s going to be a way for companies to increase their capacity, productivity and, ultimately, their modernization will make them more competitive.”
Christensen said his company is emphasizing automation. Wiscon Products also wants to make leaving for a Foxonn job less attractive, which will include training and and growth opportunities.
“At the end of the day, this is a good thing,” he said. “It’s not going to be easy, certainly, not for business owners … we have to embrace it. This is a huge benefit to our area, and it could be a big boom to our business if we do it correctly.”