This column was published in the 2017 edition of Wisconsin Business Voice.
As the story goes, President Donald Trump and then-White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus were flying over Kenosha after a Wisconsin event in the spring and the President asked Priebus about the shutdown Chrysler plant.
That led to the President looking for an opportunity to return jobs and opportunity to the state, specifically southeastern Wisconsin.
Mark Hogan, Secretary and CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC), was on a plane with Gov. Scott Walker and his Chief of Staff Rich Zipperer shortly after to meet with Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou.
Then there was a breakfast meeting at the governor’s residence in Madison with a few other folks—including Department of Administration Secretary Scott Neitzel—and it kind of took off from there.
So now that Foxconn is coming to Wisconsin, what does it mean for the state? Wisconsin Business Voice sat down with both Hogan and Neitzel to find out:
Does this change the perception of Wisconsin?
Neitzel: We had a very good reputation nationally and internationally as having a strong workforce, a good manufacturing history and a skilled labor force. So, we have that to build on, but Foxconn will take us to the next level of high-tech manufacturing.
Hogan: The key point, and Scott alluded to it, is that we could not have had this opportunity without the manufacturing legacy in our state. It stands on the shoulders of the thousands of manufacturing companies that are here, and the hundreds of thousands of employees that have been in manufacturing over the past 150 years.
What does this mean for Wisconsin’s economy?
Neitzel: Economists will want to measure the impact, but I think it is going to be hard to measure. It is going to be very impactful, whether it is all the major suppliers, the suppliers to the suppliers, or the suppliers to the suppliers to the suppliers. Then when you look at where people are going to be housed—apartments, condos, single-family homes—that will create e ven more jobs and opportunity. You can even look to the Milwaukee County budget. County Executive Chris Abele is putting in money for a new international terminal. I just think it is going to be hard to understand the secondary, tertiary and quaternary effects of this project.
The state is investing a lot of money in Foxconn, what is the return on that investment?
Hogan: We are getting an industry that does not exist in the United States, and all of the things that go with it. This will create opportunities we never seen before. These opportunities include those for local businesses, for academic institutions, and it is a reason for people to come to Wisconsin. Our state already has high quality health care, high quality education, and businesses that are already here, this just takes us to another level.
Neitzel: I always try to remind people that the government does not necessarily spend money to make money. Government spends money to get public policy outcomes. One of our issues is keeping our graduates in the state, but we also want to attract people from other states. This will be a talent attractor. That is a public policy objective met. Another issue is venture capital. This takes us closer to these top-tier states like California and New York. That gives us a leg up on venture capital and capital formation. That is another public policy objective met. As a public policy goal, we also want to make sure people have jobs that are family supporting. These jobs are almost $54,000 a year plus benefits. That is a public policy return that we get. Then at the end of it, we still get a financial return. Even if you take the LFB memo, which says it will take 25 years to see a financial return for the state—and I think the analysis is very conservative—we still meet all these other public policy objectives that we
want to meet. There are very few investments the state can make that have that broad-based of an impact and meet so many of our high-priority public policy objectives.
What excites you most of the possibilities brought on by Foxconn?
Hogan: There are two things. One, it is an opportunity for southeastern Wisconsin— Milwaukee specifically—where there is a large underemployed and unemployed population. It is an incredible opportunity for us to work with that population to get them the skills necessary. Whether it is working for Foxconn directly or working for some of the supply chain, that will be significant. The second part is giving the next generation and the generation after that the opportunity to want to be in Wisconsin. Foxconn will give so many people the chance to live and work in Wisconsin for decades to come.
Neitzel: With Foxconn here, the state’s economic future is a much better position than it was without Foxconn. We are doing very well, but this takes us to the next 25, 40, 50 years of moving the state forward. We have always been a leader in manufacturing, and this makes us a leader in high-tech manufacturing, which will ensure we don’t get left behind.
Want to find out more about Foxconn and its impact on Wisconsin, register for the Future Wisconsin Summit on Nov. 29. Secretaries Mark Hogan and Scott Neitzel will be on a panel taking your questions. More information at wmc.org.
*Responses edited for clarity and length.