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Trump visits Foxconn

President Donald Trump, flanked by Gov. Scott Walker, left, and Foxconn Technology Group CEO Terry Gou, right, tosses dirt during a ceremonial groundbreaking of the Foxconn facility in Mount Pleasant last year.

Foxconn Technology Group reversed itself Friday saying it will construct a liquid-crystal-display manufacturing facility in southeast Wisconsin after President Donald Trump intervened amid news reports that put the future of the project in doubt.

The Taiwanese company said in a statement that its announcement comes “after a personal conversation” with Trump, who helped announce the company’s original plans at the White House in 2017.

The so-called Generation 6 facility Foxconn plans to build would manufacture smaller screens for mobile phones, tablets, notebooks and wearable devices. That’s a change from a Generation 10.5 facility that the company originally set out to construct which would have made larger panels for TV screens.

Earlier this week, news reports suggested the company was shifting the facility’s focus from a blue-collar manufacturing operation to a white-collar research and development facility because it couldn’t competitively manufacture TV screens in the U.S. The company has maintained it still plans to employ up to 13,000 people, which would allow it to qualify for more than $4 billion in state and local taxpayer subsidies.

Responding to the back-and-forth this week on the company’s plans for the state, Gov. Tony Evers said he’s “comfortable” that Foxconn remains committed to Wisconsin.

A Foxconn spokeswoman would not comment on whether the company has received additional incentives. The company also did not clarify in its statement how many jobs it is committed to creating, or whether the bulk of those jobs will be in research and development, as Foxconn executive Louis Woo suggested earlier in the week.

Evers critiqued the company’s public statements about its plans as confusing and signaled his administration may review air-pollution permits given to the company under former Gov. Scott Walker.

The smaller facility would likely not require third-party companies such as Corning to set up a glass manufacturing facility nearby.

Robert O’Brien, co-founder and president of Display Supply Chain Consultants, said Foxconn’s smaller factory would likely be a quarter the size of its original plan. He estimates such a factory would likely entail a roughly $2 billion investment, as opposed to Foxconn’s originally proposed $10 billion, and roughly one-quarter the originally proposed workforce of 13,000.

“There’s nothing they’ve said that can give me reason to prove they’re wrong about 13,000, it’s just history suggests we should be skeptical,” O’Brien said.

Foxconn’s Friday announcement served as a clarification from the iPhone assembler after two national news reports suggested the company was scaling back its $10 billion investment in the state.

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Evers, meanwhile, said he spoke to Woo Friday morning and came away “comfortable that they’re still committed to the state.”

“But that doesn’t mean that we won’t continue to encourage them to be more transparent and consistent in their messaging,” Evers said. “The economy is apparently changing from their worldview that they have to make some changes. That’s understandable, but we have to make sure the transparency is there.”

Asked about state environmental permits given to Foxconn under the administration of Walker, the architect of the Foxconn deal, Evers said “air standards have always been a concern.”

“We will review those air standards,” Evers said. “That’s going to take some time.”

Asked if he’s confident that Foxconn will fulfill its original plans to create as many as 13,000 jobs in Wisconsin, Evers said, “The 13,000 is not going to happen tomorrow.”

“We’ll monitor it,” he said. “The good news is, as the Republicans continue to tell us, is the jobs are contingent on getting tax credits. So there’s some protections there.”

Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, R-Rochester, and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald, R-Juneau, who Wednesday blamed Evers and the “economic uncertainty” he allegedly brought as reasons for the company’s shifting plans, praised the company for reaffirming its Wisconsin project.

“We want to thank President Trump for his commitment to Wisconsin workers — our state has an ally in the White House who is dedicated to helping us bring family-supporting careers to our state,” they said.

Foxconn in 2017 reached a deal with the state to qualify for $3 billion in state tax credits for job creation and capital improvements in exchange for investing up to $10 billion on manufacturing and research facilities that could employ up to 13,000 people. The company is also benefiting from more than $1 billion in other state and local incentives, plus a manufacturing tax credit with a potential value that has not been disclosed.

Foxconn said Friday it plans to move forward with an “advanced manufacturing facility” in Wisconsin that will also serve as a “hub of high-technology innovation” for the area.

In its statement, the company said its announcement to proceed with the project comes after conducting an evaluation to determine how Wisconsin’s facility will fit in with other LCD manufacturing plans.

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Capitol reporter

Riley Vetterkind covers politics and state government for the Wisconsin State Journal. He can be reached at (608) 252-6135 or rvetterkind@madison.com.