By Ciara Linnane, MarketWatch
Taiwan’s Foxconn once again reiterated its commitment to build a display manufacturing and tech research center in Wisconsin on Friday, according to a Reuters report, just days after new governor Tony Evers said he wants to renegotiate the deal.
The Democratic governor, who replaced Republican Scott Walker, the original architect of the deal, said Wednesday, it was “unrealistic’ to accept that Foxconn will employ 13,000 people in the state, as promised in the original deal. Evers said he would seek fresh talks on the contract with the electronics company, which is a major supplier to Apple Inc. /zigman2/quotes/202934861/composite AAPL +0.36%
The Foxconn agreement has been fraught with problems ever since it was first touted. The $10 billion campus was announced to much fanfare in 2017 by then–governor Walker and President Donald Trump, with the state expected to pony up a $3 billion, 15-year package of tax incentives, the biggest such set of subsidies for a greenfield project in the state. Proponents have stressed that some of the incentives do hinge on job creation. The original plan had promised the hiring of 3,000 workers initially to make liquid-crystal-display panels for televisions, with the intent of growing that figure to 13,000 over time.
That plan was upended in February, when Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou said he was scrapping the plan for the high-tech panels because it would not be economically viable to make them in the U.S. due to the steep costs. Instead, he said the plant would become a research center and the company would hire mostly engineers and researchers, instead of creating the blue-collar positions previously promised. The number of workers to be hired was scaled back to 5,200 by 2020, according to a Reuters report at the time.
Evers said Wednesday that the agreement “deals with a situation that no longer exists,” as the Associated Press reported.
“I think at this point in time that would be an unrealistic expectation when they’re downsizing the footprint of what they’re doing,” Evers said. “So, 13,000 people as Foxconn employees is probably difficult to imagine for me right now.”
Further complicating the matter, Gou announced this week that he plans to run for president of Taiwan. The executive was the original negotiator of the deal and has visited the state many times since then.
Gou has a history of making and breaking promises about investments and hiring in many countries around the world, as MarketWatch has reported. A pledge to invest $30 million in a factory in central Pennsylvania in 2013, for example, was also met with much ballyhoo, as reported by the Washington Post. That plant has never materialized. Equally, a 2014 promise to invest $1 billion in Indonesia and a 2007 pledge to invest $5 billion in Vietnam came to nothing.
Critics of the Wisconsin project have held that it makes little economic sense, given the huge subsidies and tax breaks on offer. Michael J. Hicks, George and Frances Ball distinguished professor of economics and the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at Ball State University in Muncie, Ind., has made that case in a commentary for MarketWatch.
“No matter what job and incentive numbers you believe, this deal shocks the senses,” Hicks wrote in November. “At the low end, the Wisconsin Budget Project, a budget think tank, estimated the cost per job at just under $220,000. At the high end, it is $587,000 per job. These are for jobs that will pay an average of a little more than $53,000 per year. To be clear, this means Wisconsin taxpayers are paying between a third and all the wage bill for Foxconn for more than the next decade.”
The proposed plat has also been criticized on environmental grounds, as it would gain access to Lake Michigan water only via a loophole.
Foxconn trades as Hon Hai Precision Industry Co. /zigman2/quotes/207256514/delayed TW:2317 0.00% . Its stock has fallen 14% in the last 12 months, while the S&P 500 has gained 8% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average has gained the same.