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041319-wsj-news-foxconn

This building at 1 W. Main St., at the corner of Main Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard in Madison, is currently owned by BMO Harris Bank and will soon be purchased by Foxconn Technology Group.

Foxconn Technology Group announced Friday it will soon buy a building on Capitol Square as its off-campus hub to collaborate closely with UW-Madison faculty and students on research in medical, material, computer and data sciences.

Alan Yeung, Foxconn’s director of U.S. strategic initiatives, said the company has agreed to purchase a nearly century-old, six-story office building at 1 W. Main St.

BMO Harris Bank owns the building at the corner of Main Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, which the city values at about $5 million.

“This location is key to us to actually link the campus to the rest of the community,” Yeung told a small group of business and state leaders at Monona Terrace.

The announcement of Madison’s own “innovation center” comes days after a news story published by The Verge raised questions on the progress of other “innovation centers” Foxconn has scattered across the state. Of the two Foxconn sites announced in Eau Claire, one appears stalled, and the owner of the other center canceled the contract after Foxconn kept changing its plans and tried to renegotiate the deal, according to the story.

Yeung said the Madison building will not be empty, eliciting some nervous laughter from the crowd.

Speaking to reporters after the announcement, Yeung said the Verge article had “a lot of inaccuracies,” that the buildings are not empty and that the company would issue a correction soon. He discouraged people from “climbing trees” to determine building occupancy. A Verge reporter had gone into a parking garage across the street to look into Foxconn’s Milwaukee headquarters.

“We do have a plan and we actually will make sure the building is adequate and well-equipped before we move people in,” he said.

Yeung and BMO Financial Group U.S. CEO David Casper declined to disclose the terms of the deal or specify how many floors each business will occupy.

Casper said the branch’s roughly 100 employees will lease space in the 55,000-square-foot building from Foxconn. He said the deal was “imminent.”

Yeung said Foxconn employees will move into the building, which will be re-named “Foxconn Place Madison,” by the end of the year.

‘Sizable’ force

Yeung said a “sizable” number of employees will work in the building, though the number will largely depend on how much Foxconn can engage with UW-Madison faculty, staff and students, as well as with other technical colleges and entrepreneurs in the area.

UW-Madison and Foxconn announced a collaboration last summer that Chancellor Rebecca Blank called “the largest research partnership in the university’s history.” The company intends to invest $100 million in engineering and innovation research at UW-Madison to help fund a new building for the College of Engineering if the university raises the same amount.

The university’s agreement with Foxconn also calls for the establishment of Foxconn Institute for Research in Science and Technology, or FIRST, a Racine research facility that the university is jointly securing funding for with Foxconn. FIRST aims to open by 2020 with a minimum of 100 researchers, some of whom may be paid by the university.

No details

UW-Madison officials declined to answer questions Friday on the status of the new engineering building, how much has been raised in matching funds, whether a search has started for FIRST’s executive director and if the targets of a 2020 opening and at least 100 researchers are on track.

The partnership has generated a group of skeptics who call themselves “Foxhounds.” Formed out of the university’s graduate student union, the group is concerned about a public university working with a for-profit corporation that has received scrutiny for its labor practices, environmental record and failure to deliver on promises.

Foxconn, the world’s leading electronics manufacturer, pledged to employ up to 13,000 people at a Racine manufacturing facility to make liquid crystal display screens for cellphones, TVs and other devices. If the company meets certain criteria, it will benefit from about $4.5 billion in state and local tax credits and other public subsidies, the largest amount offered to a foreign company in U.S. history.

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