Aug 8, 201712:12 PMInside Wisconsin
with Tom Still
Foxconn hearing reveals team effort — and provides a few ideas
(page 1 of 2)
After lawmakers finished grilling members of the Walker administration over the details of a proposed incentive package to bring Foxconn Technology Group to Wisconsin, the mood in last Thursday’s public hearing audibly changed.
While their questions were still tough, members of the Assembly Committee on Jobs and the Economy took on a decidedly different tone as they listened to leaders of local government and higher education describe why thought the deal would be good for Wisconsin and its taxpayers.
Those few hours may represent a turning point in the debate over whether Foxconn, the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer, should get $3 billion in public incentives over 15 years in exchange for a $10-billion investment, 13,000 direct jobs, and a supply chain likely to employ twice as many workers.
An inherent skepticism is baked into the mix when the executive branch of state government offers ideas that are subject to legislative scrutiny. That tension has been present with every administration in recent memory, Republican or Democrat, and it’s no different under Republican Gov. Scott Walker.
Lawmakers are often more willing to listen to others whom they trust, even if the message is identical or nearly so to what they hear from a governor’s team.
That was the case during Thursday’s hearing in the State Capitol, where the mood changed when lawmakers heard testimony from leaders of the University of Wisconsin System, Marquette University, the state’s Technical College System, and bipartisan local leaders from Kenosha and Racine counties. Sites in those two counties are where Foxconn will build its 20-million-square-foot plant.
UW System President Ray Cross said he believes the Foxconn project would be “transformative” for the state and would “catapult” the state university system into a “position of global prominence” through partnerships, internships, and research opportunities that would build on what is already a strong research base.
His views were supported by UW–Parkside Chancellor Deb Ford and UW–Milwaukee Chancellor Mark Mone, whose campuses are close to Foxconn’s proposed sites and would be likely sources of talent and industry partnerships.
UW–Madison Engineering Dean Ian Robertson talked about the need for engineering graduates to fill Foxconn-related jobs, either directly or indirectly, and noted the college must add faculty to meet those demands over time.