It seems like some of the nation, most of the Midwest and all of Southeast Wisconsin, is abuzz with the news of technology manufacturer Foxconn of Taiwan choosing to locate its new manufacturing plant for LCD panel screens in either Racine or Kenosha counties. Speculation is that the move would result in 3,000 initial jobs and as many as 13,000 overall. Foxconn has become a global force, making products for Apple, Google and even Amazon, which certainly has established its own presence in our state.
President Trump, Speaker of the House Ryan and Governor Walker were among the first to come and celebrate the new development, and following in their footsteps will be developers, manufacturers and finally the workers who will bring the projected facility to life.
And there’s even talk of a second Foxconn facility to possibly be built near Madison.
So where does that leave Walworth County? Right in the middle, and in terms of economic development that’s not a bad place to be.
My first thought was related to the opportunity for our varied industrial base and workforce in the county. Some local businesses will adapt and reach out to be suppliers to the manufacturer, while others will provide the intermodal transportation know-how to move components and the end products via rail, truck and even shipping vessels.
Building materials firms as well as contractors and subcontractors could be among those commuting to take advantage of this new opportunity, and not just from county to county.
Walworth County may well become a new destination of choice for prospective Foxconn employees who now live in northern Illinois and northwest Chicagoland.
We can also expect an increase in students and programs geared to technology manufacturing at our Gateway Technical College campuses in Elkhorn, Burlington Racine and Kenosha.
I got something of an inside look at what’s to come in a meeting of economic leaders and stakeholders shortly after the announcement. Foxconn founder Terry Gou mentioned that he hadn’t seen this type of governor or leader yet on this globe, in this world. He was impressed by how the state was able to come together quickly across party lines and put together a competitive incentive package.
Foxconn’s decision also reflects the state’s advantages in skilled workforce, fresh water, reliable energy and a base of strong corporate headquarters. The new facility will manufacture state-of- the-art liquid crystal display (LCD) screens used in everything from self- driving cars to aircraft systems and products in the fields of education, entertainment, healthcare and more. This would be transformational for Wisconsin. The company will need to create an entire ecosystem.
Two Walworth County specifics also came to mind in the heady first days of the news. There was speculation that one of the possible sites might be the former dog racing facility near Kenosha. Let’s not forget a sister racing track used to be in Delavan alongside Interstate 43. There’s plenty of room there as well. Global companies, let’s talk!
Secondly, our solid base of employees in entry level and seasonal jobs may find this an opportunity to move up in salary and career options, while bringing that newfound money back home to spend in our retail businesses and other sectors of the local economy.
In the short term, Foxconn may be disruptive to workforce, but in the long term it w ill attract world-class talent to our region and once again create an allure for manufacturing among the younger generations. All of this optimism for the future offers some- thing else for us in Walworth County. All the attractiveness of the new site is reflected in our strengths as well – access to transportation, a trained and eager workforce, and a quality of life that may well lead to other Foxconns and especially the businesses that support them in the years to come.