I was honored to be among the invited guests for the Foxconn groundbreaking celebration on June 28th, and I wanted to share a few of the takeaways. I did not know what to expect going in, as there was little information published ahead of time. With all the rain and very warm temperatures we had been experiencing, I did not know if I needed to dust off the outdoor boots with shorts and a t-shirt or wear the suit and dress shoes. It turned out the boots were not needed, and the air conditioning was a welcome relief from the high temps, as they shuttled everyone to the site nearby that they have been leasing for the past few months. Only a handful of VIPs were at the dig site for the shovel photos, including President Trump, House Speaker Ryan, Governor Walker, and Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou. The rest of the group, approximately 500 strong, were a Who’s Who of Wisconsin elected officials, business and community leaders, as well as a large contingent from Foxconn’s operations around the globe. The dirt moving was simulcast to us over large multi-panel arrays and the VIPs soon joined us for additional comments, as the celebration continued.
At this facility, they are already making 70 displays while they begin training new employees. Even more significant to me was the scale model of the site and the range of other technologies they showcased in various displays for all to see. We have heard so much about Foxconn’s 8K+5G display technology, and it is amazing, but they do so much more. What we do not hear enough about is what they are doing to really impact lives with enhancements to the surgical room – integrated technologies and even a new Zap-X radiosurgery system for brain surgery. Televisions and smart phones entertain us and make our lives easier (most of the time), but this has such deeper purpose and will be manufactured on this same campus.
Speaking of the campus, the scale model of the $10 billion Wisconn Valley Science and Technology Park was mind-blowing in size and the number of buildings. I am told that 2,922 is the number of acres needed to accommodate everything from manufacturing to housing with on-site recreations, shopping, and service providers. It will be very visible from the I-94, bordering the roadway, and it will make quite an impression. If this development is completed as planned, it will certainly put Southeast Wisconsin on the map for high-tech manufacturing.
There are plenty of people on both sides, debating whether this development will be good for Wisconsin or not. My belief is, if it lives up to the hype, it will be very good for Wisconsin. However, a lot of things must still come together. Some opponents of the development point to other Foxconn promised investments that failed to achieve lift off, but I have confidence that this one has traction. I feel that CEO Gou has shown commitment to the project and to this area. Two of Gou’s top leaders have strong links to UW-Madison, having attended the university at some point. The biggest obstacle I see in preventing Foxconn’s success here is the ability to deliver the talent required to make this project successful. It will be a tall order. They potentially need to fill 13,000+ positions, with approximately 30% being of the more traditional line worker and 70% being more skilled positions such as automation technician, robot programmer, advance systems maintenance, and more. Our industry has long struggled with filling the current skills gap in advanced manufacturing.
To help deliver a quality workforce, Foxconn has engaged the Wisconsin Technical College system with Gateway Technical College (GTC) President Bryan Albrecht being the point person in this effort. Dr. Albrecht was also mentioned twice in a very positive way during the ceremony, by Governor Walker and Speaker Ryan. The GTC campus in Kenosha is adding two new degree programs to train workers for the Foxconn project, as well as other area manufacturing companies. If you or your children wish to learn more about the course offerings at GTC, I encourage you to visit their website www.gtc.edu, or better yet, schedule a visit to one of their campuses as soon as you can. This enormous investment in Southeast Wisconsin will certainly be a game-changing event. Let’s all work together to show Foxconn their decision was sound and that Wisconsin can deliver the world-class workforce we all need.
Mike Reader, President