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Jul 11, 201712:04 PMInside Wisconsin

with Tom Still

As Foxconn speculation continues, Wisconsin wins just by being on the map

There was a time not so long ago when Wisconsin didn’t show up on the radar screens of businesses and national site-selection consultants looking for places to grow.

The reasons ranged from “bi-coastal bias” toward states in the East and West, lingering impressions of a Rust Belt economy, and perceptions that talent and ideas were more easily found elsewhere.

That has changed of late as those same businesses and site selectors have discovered that Wisconsin and other Midwest states offer affordable business costs, a strong physical infrastructure, an increasingly diverse economic base, and creative people who aren’t afraid to set an alarm clock every work day.

Those factors and more are likely why Foxconn, the global firm known best for assembling Apple’s iPhones, is considering Wisconsin along with a few other states as places to build some sort of manufacturing plant.

That much alone is a win for Wisconsin, because other companies that might have deemed Wisconsin as “flyover” land in the past now see it as a place to land and stay. Regional economic development groups in parts of Wisconsin are seeing a surge in requests for information from site selectors, a process that began even before reports of Foxconn’s interest surfaced.

Here are points to consider as speculation swirls around Foxconn’s interest in building a plant in Wisconsin:

  • Wisconsin won’t win a straight-up bidding war for a Foxconn facility. Other states on the list have deeper pockets for government incentives such as tax credits. If the competition comes down to a beauty contest over dollars, Wisconsin will be crowned “Miss Congeniality.” If other tangible business factors are considered, such as talent, location and overall costs, the state could be smiling and waving to the crowd.
  • Don’t get fixated on predictions of 10,000 new jobs. In an age when automation is king, the actual number of jobs involved could be much smaller in a brand-new plant. It’s better to manage job-creation expectations, especially for the shorter term.
  • This may not be a winner-takes-all sweepstakes. Because Foxconn has several divisions and product lines, it may be considering multiple plants with different functions. For example, the company acquired Sharp last fall, and may want to manufacture television and other display screens sets in the United States due to the size of its market. It could choose to produce other electronics elsewhere.
  • A win for Racine or Kenosha counties would not be a loss for Rock or Dane counties. The supply-chain needs for Foxconn would be significant and could be locally sourced in many cases. Other industries that are core to Wisconsin — such as industrial equipment, power electronics, papermaking, and medical devices — are part of larger clusters than have grown up around them in Wisconsin over time.
  • It’s a team effort and better look like one. Company leaders don’t like political dysfunction because they can imagine getting caught in the crossfire. So far, it appears state government and local governments are playing well together in the sandbox. Republicans such as Gov. Scott Walker and Democrats such as Kenosha County Executive Jim Kreuser are on the same team. Higher education, public and private, will be involved in demonstrating the capacity of the state’s research and development sectors.
  • The outcome of the state budget debate over transportation funding could affect Foxconn’s decision. If Walker and the Legislature don’t agree soon on a transportation funding deal, it might trigger unease among Foxconn executives who want to be sure products get to market via road, rail, and air.

With a decision expected this summer, Wisconsin will know soon how it places in a beauty contest that may have more than one winner.

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Old to new | New to old
Jul 12, 2017 09:26 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

Wisconsin wins just by being on the map? How many jobs does that bring? WI's business scorecard per CNBC ranks the state in the 20s and 30s in most areas for business, including business tax environment. The state ranks last in startups, income growth, clean energy jobs and Midwest job growth.

We need results, not consolation ribbons or participation medals for showing up.

Jul 12, 2017 10:32 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

You need to look carefully at the competition specifically Michigan which has a lot of the same things going for it but also
A lower unemployment rate with a lot of skilled industrial workers in the area.
Cheaper land prices.
If in the Detroit area access to both the University of Michigan's flagship campus (ann arbor is not that far away) and EMU which is noted for its tech and professional degrees.
The area is working on developing its regional transportation system reopening and expanding its commuter rail, coordinating and expanding bus routes across the greater metro detroit area
The state has just increased taxes to address its road problems (it is already ranked higher than Wisconsin for roads in the federal studies- though I think our low ranking is bogus)
It is welcoming to foreigners - has taken in a lot of Middle eastern refugees which have contributed to a resurgence in business in SE Michigan. We have gone the other direction.
At least one Chinese developer has taken options on a major parcel of land in the metro Detroit area . Something to check is whether similar things are happening around Racine.
You'll note a couple of changes instate policies and attitudes would make Wisconsin more competitive

Jul 12, 2017 01:32 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

It appears Foxconn is taking a close look at Southeastern Wisconsin - http://www.jsonline.com/story/money/business/2017/07/12/jet-linked-foxconn-technology-group-lands-madison/472566001/

Jul 13, 2017 09:41 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

Foxconn would certainly have their own criteria in making such decision. I just hope our politicians do not give away the farm (us taxpayers) so they can spin outlandish claims at re-election time.

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Tom Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.

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