Wisconsin State Assembly approves bill to incentivize proposed in-state Foxconn factory

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Thursday, by a vote of 59-30, Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled State Assembly approved legislation that would provide $3 billion worth of incentives—mostly cash—to technology manufacturer Foxconn over 15 years, Reuters reports.

Foxconn, based in Taiwan, has proposed to build a 20 million square-foot liquid-crystal display (LCD) plant on a 1,000-acre plot in the southeastern sector of the state. The company’s initial investment in the plant, which would be operational by 2020 will be $10 billion.

The bill still awaits approval by the state senate and a joint finance committee, both of which Republicans control. Republicans generally support the bill, while Democrats oppose it, but the Assembly’s vote Thursday did not strictly follow party lines; two Republicans voted against, and three Democrats in favor, according to Reuters.

Proponents point out that the plant would bring tens of thousands of jobs to the area, and “transform Wisconsin’s economy,” as Foxconn said in a statement. The facility would create 10,000 construction jobs and 22,000 ancillary jobs, according to Reuters. Initially, it would employ 3,000, but could ultimately employ 13,000.

“We are ready to take advantage of this historic opportunity … and build a long-lasting relationship with Foxconn,” Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, a Republican who was instrumental in the orchestration of the deal, said in a statement, per Reuters.

“We look forward to continuing to work with them [i.e. legislators] to transform Wisconsin’s economy and make it a center of worldwide high-tech manufacturing,” Foxconn said in a statement.

President Donald Trump, who made the domestication of jobs a primary platform of his campaign, has played a large part in negotiating with the company for the plant. Trump met with Foxconn’s founder and chairman, Terry Gou, three times to discuss the plan, according to Fortune.

“I would see Terry, and I would say, ‘Terry, you have to give us one of these massive places you do great work with,’” Trump said, per The Washington Post. The president says he also told Gou, “The American worker will not let you down.”

In a testament to the importance of the deal for the Trump Administration’s economic agenda, Gou, Trump, Walker and others announced the completion of the negotiations in the East Room of the White House, the Post reports,

“The construction of this facility,” said Trump late last month, “represents the return of LCD electronics—and electronic manufacturing—to the United States.”

The bill’s detractors point out that the incentives would put Wisconsin’s government in considerable debt. The government would not break even on the deal for almost 25 years, according to a legislative analysis released last week, Reuters says.

Critics have called the incentives a “corporate welfare” project (Reuters’ words), and believe policymakers are rushing the bill.

“I think we need more time,” Democratic Representative Jill Billings said. “I want a better deal and more guarantees for my taxpayers.”

Early in the debate, Reuters says, the legislative body nixed a motion by Democrats to allow the finance committee to review the bill prior to the vote. The Assembly also shot down three amendments proposed by Democrats.

Many worry about the impact the making of LCDs has on the environment. According to a 2008 CNET article, the “chemical vapor deposition” process that produces LCDs, semi-conductors and synthetic diamond relies on a “missing greenhouse gas” known as nitrogen trifluoride, the globe-warming effect of which could be as much as 17,000 times stronger than that of CO2, according to an independent report cited by CNET.

Foxconn builds electronics for Apple, Google, Amazon, and a host of other tech giants.

The Washington Post points out that the move to build a factory on American soil is unprecedented for Foxconn, which stations most of its production operations in underdeveloped countries, where the cost of labor is cheaper.

The Post further notes that the company has a reputation for overworking employees and for dangerous work environments. In 2011, an explosion at a Foxconn factory in China killed three workers and injured 16. Some Foxconn workers report working seven days a week, living in cramped dorms, and standing so long that their legs would swell.

Featured image via Wikimedia Commons

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