If Guinness had an award for the world’s fastest groundbreaking ceremony, the symbolic shovel-turning at the site of Foxconn’s planned $10 billion manufacturing campus in Racine County would have to be a top contender.
The morning event lasted less than a minute, and the small band of reporters invited to witness the heavily guarded proceeding were blown off as they tried to ask questions.
Donald Trump, Scott Walker, Paul Ryan and Foxconn CEO Terry Gao hustled briskly away after the photo op to address an auditorium of cheering Walker supporters.
About 200 protesters assembled in Mount Pleasant before the groundbreaking to decry Walker’s giveaways to Foxconn and to air grievances about the project. The crowd, holding signs and chanting, “Hey, hey, ho, ho, Foxconn has got to go,” included several Democratic candidates.
Protesters, including activists affiliated with NextGen Wisconsin, Gaia Coalition Network, and One Wisconsin Now, continued demonstrating throughout the afternoon. They voiced objections to the massive amount of taxpayer dollars promised to Foxconn, the environmental dangers posed by the plant, and the forced relocation of long-time residents in the area who had to sell their homes to make way for the project.
Walker has given Foxconn a waiver on environmental regulations and promised it seven million gallons of Lake Michigan water daily.
Other critics of the project have expressed cynicism about the process of awarding lucrative local contracts to Foxconn. In such matters, the governor has a history of favoring his campaign donors. True to form, he gave the project's first major contract to Jon Hammes, a major Walker donor as well as campaign chairman for his gubernatorial re-election bid.
Many critics have cited Foxconn’s record of abusing its employees. So many workers have killed themselves on the job by jumping off the roofs of Foxconn factories in China that the company has had to install safety nets to catch them.
The price tag
Walker and the state’s Republican leadership have pledged up to $4.5 billion to Foxconn, a Taiwanese company that produces liquid display crystals, if it delivers 13,000 jobs over an undetermined period of time. That would make Foxconn the beneficiary of the largest-ever subsidy from a U.S. state to a foreign company, and it would make the cost of each job around $230,000.
The company has committed to making a $10 billion investment in the state, but has promised only 3,000 jobs. Foxconn has said the jobs would average more than $53,000 annually.
Foxconn’s boosters are banking that the company’s presence will spark the creation of a Wisconsin supply chain to provide the company's Wisconsin operations with materials and equipment. Walker said the plant will become the fulcrum of a technology corridor similar to California’s Silicon Valley
In the best-case scenario, if Foxconn succeeds in delivering the 13,000 jobs as well as the other businesses predicted to materialize around it, the state's subsidies to the company would not be paid off until 2043.
Kelda Roys fired off a rapid response to today’s report that Foxconn is scaling back on its initial plans.
Local governments also have pitched in more than $100 million dollars in tax breaks and enhancements to accomodate Foxconn. The rapid expansion of I-94 to accommodate the company's transportation need reduced available funds for other state roads by up to $90 million, according to the Legislative Fiscal Bureau.
Even as Walker and Trump were struggling to gain political traction from the Foxconn deal, the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported that the company’s first Wisconsin plant will be scaled down significantly from the one it pitched. The change in direction first appeared in the official newspaper of China's communist party.
Instead of producing the large liquid crystal displays the company originally said it would manufacture at the site, Foxconn instead will begin its Wisconsin operations producing much smaller glass products, which will require less investment.
Foxconn was quick to respond to the report.
“Our plans for our Wisconn Valley Science and Technology Park (Walker's name for the project), including the size of our Wisconsin facility, remain unchanged and they are linked to our commitment to this significant investment and to meeting all contractual obligations with the relevant government agencies," the company said in a statement.
But Foxconn has a history of breaking promises.
In 2013, the company promised to build a $30 million factory in Pennsylvania that would have employed 500 workers. There was no follow-through. The next year, the company reneged on a $1 billion deal in Indonesia, and the same happened the following year in India.
The revelation of Foxconn’s changed plans for Wisconsin triggered criticism from Democrats and others who felt that Walker had rushed the deal with Foxconn for political purposes. Since the beginning, they've accused Walker of acceding too easily to the company's demands and failing to properly vet the company — or the contract.
Foes have dubbed the deal "Walker's boondoggle."
While Walker was trying to create a sense of optimism and momentum around the groundbreaking, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Kelda Roys blasted his weak negotiating skills.
“There’s a reason contracts aren’t written on the back of a napkin,” Roys said in a statement. “It’s extremely troubling that Scott Walker is giving billions of dollars to a company that’s changing their end of the bargain on a whim. The recklessness of this deal proves it was designed to secure Walker’s reelection, not help the people of Wisconsin."
[This article has been updated. The original version placed the protest at Pleasant Prairie, but it occurred at Mount Pleasant.]