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Aug 8, 201712:46 PMMaking Madison

with Buckley Brinkman

Foxconn signals start of 'big doin's' in Wisconsin manufacturing

(page 1 of 2)

“Big doin’s.”

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.


Old to new | New to old
Aug 8, 2017 03:31 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

You drank all the Foxconn Kool-Aid. What about their factory in PA they promised in 2013? Or the other factories they've promised all over the world that have gone no where? I will believe Foxconn when I see the building and production start.

Aug 8, 2017 05:50 pm
 Posted by  Anonymous

I would guess that there will be SOME skilled jobs to keep the automation going but that the majority of these jobs will be basic production jobs in the $11 to $15 dollar range. They'll still use a lot of imported components. And a fair number of the workers will be from Illinois. Even if this comes to fruition, this is not the game changer that all the political hype leads us to believe. Bob

Aug 8, 2017 08:18 pm
 Posted by  P. Buckley

Thanks for your comment, Anonymous!

You're right! The Foxconn deal isn't done yet.

The Wisconsin effort differs from Pennsylvania's try. They signed an agreement with Foxconn, had a change in administration and tried to renegotiate, and Foxconn backed away. This will be Foxconn's first U.S. plant and some of the process is a bit unfamiliar to them. Our team here in Wisconsin is making it as smooth as possible for the company to meet all the requirements to build a new plant.

The early signs remain very, VERY positive. All of the incentives are performance based. The team working on the project knows what they are doing. We will know for sure this fall.

When this happens, Wisconsin will be the machine shop for Silicone Valley! That is exciting!


Oct 27, 2017 08:28 am
 Posted by  Anonymous

We will eventually find that the majority of promised workers will be minimal skilled and waged. Very unfortunate for a break-even 25 years from now. The Foxconn dog is wagging its tail with Walker / WEDC hanging on and obliviously facing its a-hole. Foxconn wrote the contract which would have left the taxpayers totally on the hook. In Pennsylvania, when they did not get the contract they wanted, they bailed out. Will they do the same to Wisconsin if they are held to a responsible expectation ??

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About This Blog

Buckley Brinkman is executive director and CEO of the Wisconsin Center for Manufacturing & Productivity and writes about the manufacturing sector in Greater Madison and throughout Wisconsin. He has a breadth of experience in helping companies drive growth, world-class competitiveness, and performance excellence, and has led efforts to save dozens of operations in the U.S. by finding new ways for them to compete. A Wisconsin native, Brinkman holds a business degree from the University of Wisconsin and an MBA from the Harvard Business School.



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