Aug 8, 201712:46 PMMaking Madison
with Buckley Brinkman
Foxconn signals start of 'big doin's' in Wisconsin manufacturing
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That’s what my grandma would say anytime there was something exciting happening. She never saw a need for pronouncing the “g” in doings when using it to describe parties, the state fair, and graduations — anything that brought people together and generated a little excitement. All grandma had to do was say, “There’s big doin’s …” and we knew we would be in for something special.
I could hear grandma’s voice saying, “There’s big doin’s over by Milwaukee” when the Foxconn signing took place. This is a HUGE opportunity for Wisconsin and will bring many new jobs to our state. Beyond the jobs themselves — and maybe even more exciting — is that it will establish a new manufacturing base for LCD displays. We abandoned that type of manufacturing more than two decades ago when the last television manufacturer closed its doors. BIG doin’s!
Like most major opportunities, Foxconn’s arrival will bring significant change. Producing LCD screens and related electronics will be a completely new type of manufacturing for the United States. It’s ironic that I was watching a Brookings Institute event, “Manufacturing Under the Trump Administration,” several weeks ago and heard Mario Rebello from Lenovo discuss the fact that while bringing manufacturing back to America is an admirable goal, no part of that electronics supply chain goes through the U.S. His point was that it will be a very heavy lift to make that happen. Start flexing Wisconsin! There’s MUCH work to be done in order to set up the necessary infrastructure.
Some changes have been very visible and in motion for some time. Additive manufacturing, robotics, and connected devices are all transforming manufacturing. The skills gap morphing into a body gap challenges all growing companies. Exponentially accelerating change makes it more difficult for any one person or organization to stay abreast of all the meaningful trends. Still, all these trends are very clear — and very visible.
Foxconn will accelerate and amplify these trends and the changes that they bring. The project will start by creating 3,000 new jobs and may climb to as many as 13,000. Even 3,000 jobs will stress the system. The early information suggests that these will be high skill/pay jobs that will skim the best and brightest from our workforce. Unemployment in Wisconsin is at 3.1%, with only two northern Wisconsin counties (out of 72 total) above 4.0% in the May numbers. We’re at full employment with all traditional candidates engaged in the workforce. Finding new workers will require more effort and patience — not just skills training.
Foxconn will get their employees. Brand new factories are exciting, alluring places. New equipment, new technology, and the chance to be in at the ground floor will attract the needed workers. In addition, there’s too much at stake for the state government and the project’s promoters to allow it to fail. There will be plenty of workforce development assets aimed to fill the Foxconn pipeline.