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Foxconn

I've got longtime friend and Madison publicist Susanne Voeltz to thank for a copy of a just-published in-depth report on the Foxconn plant under construction in southeast Wisconsin.

The 26-page article appears in The Verge, a digital magazine founded in 2011 that is devoted to exploring how technology is changing so much of the world.

The article's headline says it all: "Foxconn is confusing the hell out of Wisconsin."

No kidding.

Author Josh Dzieza recalls how beginning last June, Foxconn officials started popping up in all corners of the state and announcing new projects, all sort of coinciding with Scott Walker's campaign for re-election to a third term as governor.

Walker and Foxconn officials, writes Dzieza, had just confirmed that Foxconn would build a smaller factory than it had originally promised and they wanted to make a good impression.

Suddenly, Louis Woo, special assistant to Foxconn CEO Terry Gou, showed up in Milwaukee to announce a new headquarters and "innovation center." Then it was off to Green Bay, where Foxconn said there would be another innovation center, and then to Eau Claire, where Foxconn said it would build a "technology hub."

After that, the huge Taiwanese tech company — which could collect up to $4 billion in subsidies and tax breaks for building a factory near Racine that could employ up to 13,000 workers — announced a $100 million gift to the UW-Madison to be used for tech research and other cooperative pursuits.

Then, writes Dzieza, the announcements stopped and work at the Racine County factory came to a halt. Woo told the Chinese press that Foxconn has switched plans on what it would build, then backtracked after Donald Trump called him, saying the factory was back on track.

Curious about the corporation's changing plans, the reporter spent several weeks in Wisconsin trying to determine what's really going on. He found village officials in Mount Pleasant, the Racine suburb where the plant is to be located, unwilling to talk. They're supposed to run comments to press through the Foxconn PR machine, Dzieza reported. Construction that was under way wasn't really being done by Foxconn, but by private firms improving the infrastructure that the new plant is to use — roads, utilities, water mains.

Dzieza stopped in Milwaukee to see what progress was being made on the new headquarters that's supposed to be there.

He talked to Milwaukee Ald. Robert Bauman, who thought Foxconn was going to actually build something in the city, but it appears they will be either renting or buying an existing building.

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"They were increasingly tuned into the politics in Wisconsin, and were increasingly aware that maybe this deal isn't going over so well," said Bauman, imagining Foxconn thinking: "'We've got to give the appearance that we're doing good things throughout the state. Let's run around and buy select buildings in Green Bay, in Eau Claire, in downtown Milwaukee, sort of increase our public relations a little bit.'"

The story goes on to detail how uncertain local and state officials are about the future of Foxconn in Wisconsin. The corporation has a track record of committing to a major development then abruptly pulling out, leaving communities high and dry.

Now comes the latest development: Foxconn said Friday that there will be an innovation center in Madison too. Officials said the company will soon buy the building at 1 W. Main St., just across from the Capitol. The six-story building, valued by the city at about $5 million, is owned by BMO Harris Bank, which will subsequently lease space in the building for its bank branch and roughly 100 employees. Foxconn's Alan Yeung said the building will be renamed Foxconn Place Madison and employees will move in by the end of the year.

Time will tell how Wisconsin will fare, perhaps sooner than we think. Meanwhile, as the story says, Foxconn is confusing the hell out of us.

Dave Zweifel is editor emeritus of The Capital Times. dzweifel@madison.com608-252-6410 and on Twitter @DaveZweifel.  

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