After months of growing confusion and anger, the people of Wisconsin are finally getting some answers about the manufacturing plant that Foxconn is building in their state. Though even those answers are already being questioned.
In an interview with CNBC this week, Democratic Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers said he has finally received “clarity” from the Taiwan-based technology manufacturing company. He spoke to the news outlet a week after his first visit to the site of the facility, which has been scaled down since the deal was first announced in 2017.
Foxconn originally said it would build a 20-million-square-foot campus with a Gen 10.5 facility for building TV screens, and would employee 13,000 people. To try to make this pipe dream come true, then-Governor Scott Walker, a Republican, promised $4 billion in incentives. At the groundbreaking in June 2018, President Donald Trump called the plant “the Eighth Wonder of the World.”
Since then, the scope of the project has diminished significantly. The company now claims it will make a Gen 6 facility capable of building phone screens. The story has changed throughout the last several months. In January, Foxconn told Reuters it wasn’t building a factory at all—but rather a research and development campus. Then, after receiving a call from Trump, the company said it would build a factory after all.
Now the company says that the factory will start making something in 10 months. But Wisconsin Representative Gordon Hintz, a Democrat, is dubious.
“The reality is we still have very little idea of what is going to take place, what they’re going to be manufacturing, and whether it’s remotely viable,” Hintz told Gizmodo in a phone call. “They shared their employment expectations and timing of something for sometime next year with the governor. But I think their credibility is so shattered at this point.”
The state representative said that 1,500 is more realistic employment number than 13,000. “But at the same time, the only thing we know about 1,500 is that’s a number the company said,” Hintz said. “I have no idea because we have no idea what they’re actually going to be doing.”
Foxconn did not address Gizmodo’s request for more details about the May 2020 production and employment goals, but in a statement shared with Gizmodo, a spokesperson for Foxconn Technology Group said it recently began the concrete foundation for the 1-million-square-foot facility.
“We are incredibly proud of the significant progress that Foxconn has made in Wisconsin in just one year after ground-breaking, and we look forward to continued progress towards Q4 2020, when our Gen6 facility will begin production on LCD screens for use in a variety of product applications,” the company spokesperson said.
As CNBC points out, the current trajectory suggests that Foxconn is unlikely to meet the hiring targets for receiving its subsidies under the deal it made with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. Foxconn missed one target last year, hiring 156 instead of the required 260 employees. And its 2020 hiring target is 1,800—300 more than it is now saying it will hire by next year. So even by the company’s own hiring projection, it will miss next year’s goal.
Even if the Foxconn does not meet the targets to receive all the incentives, taxpayers have already sunk a lot into the project, which has displaced many people in the rural area where the facility is being built. According to CNBC, the Village of Mount Pleasant and Racine County have to pay $764 million for the project regardless—and those municipalities had already paid about $200 million at the beginning of 2019. Much of the money spent so far has been used on infrastructure and land acquisition.
Hintz has his suspicions about why the company is claiming it will be ready to show some production from all that investment by May 2020. “I think the timeline, when I hear things related to 2020, seem far more targeted towards Donald Trump’s re-election campaign than any sort of viable production facility.”