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Racine County welcomes Foxconn

A screen at the SC Johnson iMET Center, 2320 Renaissance Blvd. on Oct. 4 states “Racine County Welcomes Foxconn to the Village of Mount Pleasant.” The company's selection of Mount Pleasant as the location for its behemoth manufacturing campus was announced at the iMET.

Wisconsin's jobs agency will not alter its policies to make public a contract between the state and Foxconn before the deal is signed, Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation CEO Mark Hogan said Tuesday.

"We won’t be changing our process relative to when the contracts are available," Hogan told members of the Legislature's audit committee. "Any contract that WEDC signs is available to the public (once it is signed)."

Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, had requested the document be made available for public review before it is executed. Sargent questioned Hogan and other WEDC officials as to whether the agency could effectively execute a contract as significant as the one with Foxconn. 

Gov. Scott Walker signed into law a $3 billion incentive package for the Taiwanese electronics company — on track to be the largest subsidy to a foreign company in U.S. history — last month. Foxconn plans to build a massive LCD panel manufacturing facility in the southeastern Wisconsin village of Mount Pleasant

WEDC is currently in the process of finalizing the contract to cement the deal. 

"I’m not going to comment on the Foxconn contract because we’re currently in negotiations, other than to say I think as with any contract, those negotiations are ongoing. There’s never a point in time until you sign the contract that it’s finalized," Hogan said.

Sen. Kathleen Vinehout, D-Alma, who is seeking to challenge Walker in the 2018 gubernatorial election, echoed Sargent's concerns, asking for assurances that the deal wouldn't be rushed at taxpayers' expense. She drew comparisons to a 2012 deal with aviation company Kestrel Aircraft that went badly, leading WEDC to threaten legal action. 

Hogan argued significant improvements have been made within WEDC since the Kestrel award was approved, including bringing Hogan in to head the agency in 2015. 

Hogan said he takes "very seriously" his role in protecting the state's taxpayers.

Sen. Alberta Darling, R-River Hills, said it's important for lawmakers to demand transparency and accountability from the agency, but argued they also shouldn't exaggerate negative observations. 

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"If we’re all in this game together to create the best place for people to live, work and play in Wisconsin ... we have to be accurate about how we view this economic development agency," Darling said.

The committee met to discuss an audit released in May that found WEDC had improved its administration of grants, loans and tax credits but still could not accurately measure how many jobs it has created.

WEDC "cannot be certain about the numbers of jobs created or retained as a result of its awards," the nonpartisan Legislative Audit Bureau reported in the biennial review.

State auditor Joe Chrisman said Tuesday the primary areas in which WEDC has not complied with recommendations have been in verification and accuracy. 

Hogan said the agency expects a partnership with the state Department of Workforce Development will improve WEDC's ability to track job creation.

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Jessie Opoien covers state government and politics for the Capital Times. She joined the Cap Times in 2013 and has also covered Madison life, race relations, culture and music. She has also covered education and politics for the Oshkosh Northwestern.