The Wall Street Journal reported this morning that Foxconn is looking to transfer some of its Chinese workforce to Wisconsin in time for its new factory opening in Racine. These workers, the Journal reports, would likely be engineers and would fill a gap in prospective talent due to a tight labor market. Given that the entire deal with Foxconn hinged on the promise of new jobs for Americans, that would be an unwelcome surprise for many in Wisconsin.
In a comment to Gizmodo, Foxconn denied that it was recruiting Chinese workers. The company said:
“We can categorically state that the assertion that we are recruiting Chinese personnel to staff our Wisconsin project is untrue. Our recruitment priority remains Wisconsin first and we continue to focus on hiring and training workers from throughout Wisconsin. We will supplement that recruitment from other US locations as required.”
We’ve reached out for independent comment and will update if we hear more.
In November 2017, Wisconsin pledged $3 billion in subsidies for the Taiwan-based company if it opted to open the factory in Wisconsin. In return, Foxconn said it would create 13,000 jobs and invest $10 billion. (The state subsidy came out to $230,000 per job.) The Wall Street Journal report suggests that the company is struggling to find qualified engineers in the area, though, as the unemployment rate in the state reached a record low at 3 percent, along with a recent national low at 3.7 percent.
Foxconn originally planned to build a factory to manufacture 75-inch TVs, but then it decided to instead focus on developing an ecosystem it calls “AI 8K+5G.” This would require, Foxconn says, the same 13,000 employees but more skilled labor as opposed to assembly line workers. Foxconn spokesperson Louis Woo told the Racine Journal Times that the shift in the factory’s focus would require about “10 percent assembly line workers, 90 percent knowledge workers.”
Even more generally, the Foxconn deal isn’t shaping up to be the hallowed deal Walker promised. The Verge found that University of Wisconsin-Madison students worry about intellectual property and academic freedom, as the University and Foxconn agreed on a research partnership that’ll result in “Foxconn-sponsored” but UW-Madison-owned facilities on the engineering campus. Environmentalists and neighboring states worry about Foxconn sucking up all of Lake Michigan’s water. The company would use as much as 7 million gallons per day from the lake, of which 39 percent will be lost through evaporation.
Ultimately, the promise of jobs is the backbone of this entire Wisconsin-Foxconn deal, so if Chinese workers do end up coming to the US to fill roles, it would represent a huge failure for everyone involved.