It was not only the bitter arctic air which took away the breath of Wisconsinites Wednesday. Following the news Foxconn will be changing its scope of operation in the state some Democrats gloated about the seemingly failed investment plan, while Republican leadership at the Capitol ducked for political cover. Meanwhile, the average citizen hoping for a vibrant and future-oriented economic foundation, which Foxconn promised, are left out in the cold.
Various news reports had differing interpretations of what Foxconn has in mind for its Southeast Wisconsin operations. Reuters reported that Foxconn now intends to hire mostly engineers and researchers rather than the manufacturing workforce the project originally promised.
For months the future of the planned Wisconsin Foxconn operations made for news on the business pages of not only state papers, but in many column inches in the national press. China’s national economy is shrinking, and the international trade battle created during the Trump presidency continues. And like every other business it is constrained by the economic and political need to maintain and create new jobs.
If you live in (especially) Southern Wisconsin there has been no shortage of news reports over the past couple years concerning the controversial state and local incentives for the Foxconn project. The plan was first sold as a plant to manufacture advanced large screen displays for TVs. That was later modified to build smaller LCD screens. With the news today it is unclear what the end results will be for economic gains for the state.
That in, and of itself, should be the main news of the day about this matter. But in the face of several differing reports about the future plans for Foxconn comes the glaring politicization of what can only be summed up as a loss for the state. Within minutes of the news reports my Facebook page was alive with gleeful comments about the failure of our state’s investment. Some Democrats could not cackle loud enough about the reports of failure.
On the other side of the aisle top state Republican leaders were placing the blame for Foxconn’s action on their new boogeyman, Governor Tony Evers.
“We don’t blame Foxconn for altering plans in an ever-changing technology business. It’s also not surprising Foxconn would rethink building a manufacturing plant in Wisconsin under the Evers Administration,” Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in a joint statement about the company’s plans.
From the start I was truly optimistic regarding Foxconn. I felt all along the idea was precisely what Wisconsin needed so to get a strong foothold in the 21st century. Incentive plans which include tax deals to sweeten the pot is just the reality of how public and private interests now need to work to ensure great strides are made for economic development.
After all, packaging state resources into a powerful program to create jobs over a wide array of communities is the smartest thing to have emerged from our statehouse in a very long time.
I genuinely believe this is a plan that will not only create jobs, but lift spirits, and allow for a larger part of the state to also receive benefits from other investments. For instance, I am heartened to learn the ways UW-Madison is seeking research relationships with Foxconn. With that in mind, I would love to see this legislature also pass a meaningful venture capital bill to help seed the new ideas and small businesses that can be spun off from the Foxconn deal. I do not wish to think small anymore when it comes to where we might head economically in our state.
So when the large idea seems to be floundering and disappearing I am just mighty sad to see that both sides of the aisle turn to their usual partisan homes. In so doing they miss the fact that we lost something what would have made our state much sounder, and our future more secure.
I am most saddened by the reaction of too many of my fellow Democrats today. Over and over during the election season Democrats correctly talked about those who do not have the job they wish, are under-employed, or are unable to meet their needs because of wages that are too low. Many of those struggling are parents, however, who grasped the fact the jobs of the future for their children are the type that Foxconn would have brought to the state. In addition we need to also calculate those jobs that would have been created as spin-offs. And the educational gains made at our higher learning institutions.
Tonight the lofty goals we once hoped for as a state seem to be slipping away. Perhaps pretty much all gone.
But at least we have partisan rhetoric to keep us warm.