Foxconn Rethinks Plans for Factory Along Lake Michigan

By: - January 30, 2019 12:00 am

President Donald Trump and former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, both Republicans, joined Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou in breaking ground last year for the proposed Foxconn facility in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin. Evan Vucci/The Associated Press

Foxconn Technology Group may no longer build a Wisconsin factory that would have used millions of gallons of water a day from Lake Michigan.

Reuters reported the Chinese company is reconsidering plans to make liquid crystal display (LCD) panels in Wisconsin, citing high labor costs. Producing LCD panels requires large volumes of very clean water.

The company instead wants to create a “technology hub” largely made up of research facilities along with packaging and assembly operations, Reuters reported.

President Donald Trump and former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, both Republicans, had strongly supported Foxconn’s original proposal and its promise of creating blue-collar jobs. But Democrats and environmentalists fought the plan, because of the $4 billion in tax credits pledged by the state as well as its potential environmental effects on the Great Lakes.

States that border the lakes have signed a compact dictating how the water can be used, in part to prevent it from being used by residents or businesses outside of the Great Lakes basin.

“The Great Lakes are an important but exhaustible resource,” Jim Olson, an environmental lawyer in Michigan who has spoken out against the Foxconn deal, told Stateline after the plant was announced. Olson worried the deal would open the door to similar projects that, when combined, would slowly drain the basin.

Foxconn initially estimated the plant would bring 13,000 jobs to struggling southeast Wisconsin, a way to revitalize a once-thriving manufacturing sector. But the company did not hire enough people to qualify for a $9.5 million tax credit available in 2018.

The company had said it would hire about 5,200 people by the end of 2020, but that number has dropped to closer to 1,000 workers, Reuters reported. It’s unclear when the 13,000 goal would be reached, but most workers would be engineers and researchers, with some in packaging and assembly, Reuters said.

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Rebecca Beitsch

Rebecca Beitsch writes about energy and the environment for Stateline. She covered state government in Missouri and North Dakota, writing about politics and policy for NewsRadio KMOX, the Columbia Missourian and the Bismarck Tribune.