Gloating, Running For Cover Regarding Foxconn Is Most Sad

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.

Venture Capital, R&D, Education Must Be Issues Examined In Wisconsin Governor’s Race

Instead of the usual invective and low-balls that normally get slung about in the name of campaigning for Wisconsin governor, what would happen if the discourse was elevated to the place where issues that mattered for the well-being of citizens, and the long-term interests of the state took place?

Over this long weekend of too much rain I found my reading often took me in a path towards issues dealing with the future needs of our state.

No one could find reason not to smile and be glad about the news last week concerning Foxconn Technology Group investing $100 million in engineering and innovation research at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

“The Foxconn Institute for Research in Science and Technology will provide funding on practical topics and capabilities in core areas that will become increasingly invaluable to the advanced technology hub, along with the artificial intelligence, 8K resolution and 5G wireless technology ecosystem that we are building in Wisconsin.”

There is no doubt that the economic stimulation resulting from Foxconn is being felt, and roots are taking hold in small ways that will prove to be very beneficial to this state and region.  Research and development on a whole array of new technology horizons is exactly the path our state needs to take.   We can, and must, reverse the image of Wisconsin as a graying older state and seek to attract young minds who will be the innovators of ideas and products we can not now envision.

To allow for cutting-edge concepts to be discovered and then crafted into business designs means new and deeper wells of funding will be required.  Tom Still, President of the Wisconsin Technology Council, is perhaps the most persistent advocate of venture capital.  He weighed in, once again, to make his case. 

Chris Rizik, the managing director of the Renaissance Fund, described the fund’s structure, investment experience and results in early 2017 at the invitation of the Wisconsin Technology Council. He described Wisconsin as “poised” for such a fund. The Tech Council most recently cited the benefits of such a fund with the release of its 2018 white-papers report, “Pathways to Success.”

“We have 1.78 percent of the nation’s population, conduct 1.89 percent of the nation’s academic research and generated 1.64 percent of the nation’s patents,” the report reads. “However, we have 0.21 percent of the nation’s venture capital under management and our state’s companies raised 0.35 percent of our nation’s venture capital.”

Wisconsin has a cadre of major companies. It has experienced investors in angel capital networks and stand-alone funds. Increasingly, it has the right talent and ideas.

What’s needed now is a shared sense of opportunity about reinvesting in Wisconsin and a few corporate champions to take up the challenge. The potential is there.

What concerns me is that when the best minds and most hopeful citizens press for a better way forward in Wisconsin, other voices louder and more shrill get the large headlines.  And we can not deny that a large segment of the populace are swayed to believe in views that run counter to our best interests.  That point was made in The Economist this week. 

Rising anti-immigrant sentiment and tighter visa regimes of the sort introduced by President Donald Trump have economy-wide effects: foreign entrepreneurs create around 25% of new companies in America. Silicon Valley first bloomed, in large part, because of government largesse. But state spending on public universities throughout America and Europe has fallen since the financial crisis of 2007-08. Funding for basic research is inadequate—America’s federal-government spending on R&D was 0.6% of GDP in 2015, a third of what it was in 1964—and heading in the wrong direction.

We need to think about where our state is headed.  And I do not mean in a Blue or Red direction.  But instead either forward or backwards–up or down.

We need to embrace private-public partnerships that push the boundaries of new technology and ideas.  We should thrill at educational and business relationships that will not only create jobs but allow for young minds in far-off places to want to live, study, and work in Wisconsin.  We need to find and promote funding sources that are understood to be wise investments for tomorrow.

I am hoping that in the weeks ahead, as Labor Day is over, and the fall gubernatorial campaign continues, that a reasoned and meaningful discussion can take place in Wisconsin about where we are headed and what we desire for our future.  If we only concentrate on a partisan outcome we will have missed a moment to have a public conversation we all need to have.

Are Democrats Who Support Foxconn Without A Candidate For Governor?

The current line-up of Democratic candidates for governor remind me of some relatives who would visit my parents on lazy Sunday afternoons.  Somehow the topic of the weather always would come up and no one ever seemed pleased with it.  One aunt in particular always thought it too windy.  She seemed unaware the wind allowed for my kites to take flight in the grassy fields.

Meanwhile the candidates seeking the party nomination seem to be fixated on Foxconn, the economic powerhouse planned for Racine County.  They seem to be unable–or unwilling–to consider that this new enterprise is the exact type of updraft our state economy could really use.   As a consequence, some Democratic voters are wondering what to do when it comes to the summer primary.

The constant scorn and ridicule against Foxconn by the candidates runs counter to what some voters consider to be the only shining example of leadership shown by Governor Scott Walker.  While I understand the need for a candidate to connect with voters and curry favor for the primary, I also sincerely wish that Democrats would carry a message about the greater long-term benefits that this liquid crystal display manufacturing campus would bring to our state.  I wish there would be a complete presentation about Foxconn which includes the fact our state got a deal that works to our benefit.  Foxconn’s investment in Mount Pleasant came without the state needing to pay significant up-front costs.  Furthermore, state money comes only after the jobs are created.

I have not been able to line up with any of the numerous candidates seeking the nomination. As a politico it has been hard to sit back and not align with someone–especially given the political climate which greets us hourly (it seems) with a new outrage.  While I have deep feelings about the troubling outcomes regarding voter ID, Act 10, and school vouchers I also have a deep regret that the candidates seem unwilling to grasp the many benefits that Foxconn will create for our state.

As I have watched the months pass, and the dialogue only harden it appears that state Democrats might have a problem similar to Republicans.  Having long argued that Republicans need to better work at their ability to compromise, it is also apparent that Democrats need to embrace pragmatism.  Policy choices that can be sold as a middle path going forward, so to avoid the deep rancor that follows purely partisan moves, is what always best serves citizens.  Each of the parties has failed to achieve what our state most needs when it comes to the art of governing.

When it comes to Foxconn it seems–from the perspective of this desk– that candidates want to find a wedge issue from which to showcase themselves.  For instance, I am a decades-long admirer of Matt Flynn.  I served as his Door County Chair during his bid for the U.S. Senate.   I know Flynn to be smart, gracious, and having the leadership qualities that would serve him well in the statehouse.  But I am flummoxed by his stand on Foxconn.   I really want to support him but can not square how he lacks vision about this matter.

Candidates say the money spent on Foxconn could have made countless investments in small businesses or in educational projects. To them I would argue the same as about the flaw in GOP tax plans.  Providing smaller amounts of money scattered about does not have the powerful economic impact that concentrated money, and policy direction allows for when it comes to the larger social need.

Democrats correctly talk 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 who grasp the fact the jobs of the future for their children are the type that Foxconn will bring to the state–and still more that will spin off as a result.   That latter point is already happening as Tom Still pointed out in the Wisconsin State Journal.

The company announced 28 subcontractors and suppliers for the town of Mount Pleasant project May 7, and all but one of those companies is based in Wisconsin. The only non-Wisconsin firm is a trucking company in Rockford, Ill., just across the border.

Those contractors and suppliers will tackle about $100 million worth of work in the opening phase of the Foxconn project and draw their workers, directly and indirectly, from 60 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties — in cities such as Black River Falls in the west, Marathon in central Wisconsin, Neenah and Seymour in the Fox Valley, and across southeast Wisconsin.

Those companies will work with general contractors M+W and Gilbane as the Racine County project, projected to be the size of 11 Lambeau Fields, embarks on what is likely to be a four-year buildout.

But what we can not see at this time, but which will follow in the months and years to come, is the economic stimulation that this focused proposal will have on the state’s economy.  During the debate in the state  legislature one of the points made that should not be discounted is that Foxconn has a record of producing robust healthy economic outcomes for the places where they have a factory.  Though it is true I am an optimist by nature it needs to be underscored that facts clearly show how Foxconn has created not only good paying jobs but also economic expansion for the regions where they set up a business site.

The focal point of state candidates should be how to steer our educational system to meet the needs of the tech era.  Making sure our fellow citizens are prepared for the skilled jobs of the future, and get the assistance they need to meet the challenges of the modern world, can not be over-stated.

Instead we hear about Foxconn and the undermining of this public-private partnership.  The very type of partnership which we need more of across our state.  Lets use the campaign to address why these combined interests can work to secure good jobs and lift our tax base, instead of undermining the use of tax incentives–something that is done all over the nation.  Make that the world.

I sincerely want a new governor–a Democratic governor!  But I also want honest objective discussions about where our economy is headed, how jobs can be created, and the ways to educate future workers.  Though I am not a one-issue voter I also am not able to throw aside facts and logic for a political bandwagon headed in the wrong direction.