The Foxconn Wisconsin Deal Has Devolved Into A Pile Of Shifting Promises, Buzzwords, And Hype
from the prey-I-don't-alter-our-deal-further dept
Last year, you’ll recall that Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker signed what at the time was treated as a revolutionary deal: the state promised Taiwan-based Foxconn a $3 billion state subsidy if the company invested $10 billion in a Wisconsin plant that created 13,000 jobs. Walker hoped that the deal would finally help cement job growth that he had promised his supporters for years, and the press was quick to hype the plan without really giving it too much thought. Quietly, Wisconsin?s non-partisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau was busy pointing out that it would take until 2043 for taxpayers to recoup the subsidy, though that obviously took second fiddle to the hype of bringing American jobs back from overseas to focus on cool new tech.
But as the details of the plan solidified by late last year, the $3 billion subsidy quickly ballooned to $4.1 billion, and some folks quietly began to notice that the math really didn’t make much sense:
“Wisconsin currently has an unemployment rate of 3.2%, so they are only so many workers available locally. Realistically, the payback period for a $100,000 per job deal is not 20 years, not 42 years, but somewhere between hundreds of years and never. At $230,000 or $1 million per job, there is no hope of recapturing the state funds spent from taxes on the company and its workers.”
Many now doubt whether the subsidy will ever pay for itself. This week, The Verge offered up a new piece dissecting the deal and it’s well worth a read. It notes that while the scope of the subsidies Foxconn would receive slowly ballooned, the promised factory Foxconn was supposed to build kept shrinking in size and scope. Instead of building 10-foot by 11-foot panels for 75-inch TV screens, Foxconn would be building a Generation 6 plant that only produces 5-foot by 6-foot glass panels.
Instead of a 10.5 plant needing $10 billion in investment (Foxconn’s original promise), the Gen 6 plant actually being built requires about a $2.5 billion investment. And still, the scope of the promised plant continued to shrink:
“But Foxconn officials also said that the company was still committed to a $10 billion investment and 13,000 jobs, adding it might eventually add a Gen 10.5 plant, but it would get there in ?phases.? The phases were not spelled out.
Just seven weeks later, in late August, the company announced the plans had changed yet again ? far more radically. Woo told the Racine Journal Times that Foxconn would never add a Gen 10.5 plant to its Racine campus, despite past statements, because by the time it was built, the market would be glutted by other manufacturers in China.”
Of course none of this should really be surprising, especially given that Foxonn has made similar, magically-shrinking promises of similar ilk in countries like Vietnam, India, and Brazil. And this is all before you seriously consider the environmental impact of the arrangement, which many aren’t. At this point, the fading promises have become almost comedic in nature (if you ignore taxpayers footing the bill for the kerfuffle). Vast plans to build a major panel manufacturer plant with thousands of new jobs have been replaced by hype, buzzwords, and nonsense:
“Even the Gen 6 panels might not be manufactured in Racine for long. ?We are not really interested in television,? Woo told the newspaper, though he said the company wants to build America?s first thin-film transistor (TFT) fabrication, which can be used in LCD products. Rather, Woo said, workers at the Wisconsin plant will be focused on figuring out new ways to use Foxconn?s display, cellular, and AI technology, building out an ?ecosystem? Woo calls ?AI 8K+5G.”
We’ve already noted that 5G is important but violently over-hyped, and this idea of an “AI 8K+5G ecosystem” is largely meaningless (they really should have thrown a blockchain reference in for good measure). A May 2018 poll of locals found that 66% doubted the deal would ever actually meaningfully benefit the local economy, and the plan isn’t having anywhere near the impact on polling that Walker had hoped ahead of the midterms. At this rate, Wisconsin will be lucky to see a few thousand jobs in exchange for an investment most objective observers doubt will ever actually pay for itself.