MILWAUKEE — “We’re building the airplane while we’re flying and we’re redesigning it."
That is the analogy Bill Mitchell, Foxconn's vice president of business operations, used Thursday to describe the Foxconn Technology Group's Wisconsin plans.
"And we’re figuring it out as we go but we are figuring it out," Mitchell said. "We don’t have all the answers but we’re figuring it out.”
Mitchell, who is also president and CEO of Aguila — a Foxconn distribution company, made the remarks Thursday at the Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership "Manufacturing Matters" conference in Milwaukee.
Foxconn has been criticized for its ever-evolving plans for its campus in Mount Pleasant and Wisconsin in general.
Mitchell told the crowd of about 500 people that working for Foxconn has been “an interesting experience” and “a challenge.”
He added the development in Mount Pleasant is something that “hasn’t been done anywhere on this scale, exactly like this before at any time anywhere in the world.”
“And so it brings some challenges to it,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell used Foxconn as an example of how companies should approach the future. He specifically called on companies to be flexible, plan ahead, to not be afraid and be willing to change.
“That will kill you as an organization if you’re not willing to let go of the past and work to hold on to the future,” Mitchell said. “The thing that’s hurting so many companies today is they’re holding on to something … and they’re afraid to let it go because it’s gotten them to where they are and they know that it’s been responsible for their success. And they feel that if they let that go, then their warnings are going to be gone and they’re not going to have any means of stability.”
Mitchell added that companies need to develop an “ecosystem” as a way to work with other companies with different expertise as a way to move the company forward.
Speaking to Evers, media
Gov. Tony Evers was present at the conference and spoke after Mitchell, focusing mostly on his proposed budget that is coming out next week. But he did not talk about Foxconn.
After Evers was done speaking he met with Mitchell in private for about 30 minutes. After that conversation Evers went to a different event and Mitchell addressed the news media that was present.
One reporter attempted to ask Mitchell a question that included Evers’ criticisms of the project while he was campaigning and Mitchell abruptly walked way.
After a brief moment, Mitchell returned and apologized but emphasized he is “not a spokesman for Foxconn” and asked that questions be focused on his presentation.
During his time in Wisconsin getting to know local businesses, Mitchell said Wisconsin companies are “flexible and they’re committed to being successful.”
“They’re excited about advanced manufacturing and all the things that that holds,” Mitchell said.
Mitchell said Foxconn describes its ecosystem as “people from both competitive and non-competitive industry working together to accomplish a common good” to be able to go faster and be more effective.
“In our world an ecosystem is working together with companies that are great in technology or great in automation or things like that where they have more expertise than we do,” Mitchell said.
When asked to expand on the “building the airplane while we’re flying” comment, Mitchell said with development, “the demands are ever-changing.”
“There’s strategies and things at a higher level, that are way above me for what people are trying to do or trying to accomplish,” Mitchell said. “It’s exciting to me, for a company as large as us to be able to go as fast as we do, you can’t wait for things to happen or you’ll get left behind.”
Foxconn declined to comment on the conversation between Mitchell and Evers.
Foxconn has previously stated that "All interactions to date with Gov. Evers and his team have been constructive and we look forward to further discussions as we continue to invest in American talent and broaden the base of our investment within the State of Wisconsin."
Calling for transparency
At an event after the conference, Evers was asked about his conversation with Mitchell and stated his administration's goal is to "protect the taxpayers of the state, making sure that the environmental issues are resolved in a good way."
"We also want to make sure they’re the best corporate citizen possible," Evers said. "But at the end of the day, we absolutely have to have consistent, detailed information that is forthcoming from the company itself."
Evers said the Foxconn project is a big investment for the state "and this investment means that there has to be as much transparency as possible.
"And I believe consistent transparency and consistent messaging is important to the people of Wisconsin," Evers said. "So, that was my message to (Mitchell) and is, frankly, the message I’ve talked about ever since I’ve become governor.”
Vos on Foxconn
At a WisPolitics.com luncheon on Thursday, Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, said, "I want Foxconn to be here" and the state should send that message that it is "damn happy" to have the company.
Vos also said he hopes that air permits granted to electronics giant Foxconn Technology Group aren't tightened by the governor. Evers has been critical of Foxconn and said that he is ordering a review of air permits granted by his predecessor Gov. Scott Walker.