By TODD RICHMOND
MADISON, Wis. (AP) — Gov. Scott Walker’s top aides offered legislators another round of assurances Tuesday that a Foxconn Technology Group plant in southeastern Wisconsin would transform the state’s economy and said the company would lose out on state incentives if it doesn’t deliver.
Foxconn has proposed building a $10 billion facility to produce liquid-crystal display panels in Kenosha or Racine counties. The Taiwanese company has promised the factory could employ up to 13,000 people.
Walker has drawn up a bill that would hand the company $3 billion in incentives, including tax credits based on jobs created and capital investment, exemptions from environmental regulations and exemptions from state and local sale taxes on construction materials.
The state Assembly approved the incentives bill last week, but the Senate has been moving more cautiously. The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee, made up of both Assembly representatives and senators, held a public hearing on the measure Tuesday in Sturtevant, near where the plant might locate.
No one from Foxconn attended the hearing. Committee Democrats peppered Department of Administration Secretary Scott Nietzel and Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. CEO Mark Hogan with questions about whether Foxconn will deliver on its job promises, whether the company will employ Wisconsin residents and the environmental exemptions’ effects on the landscape.
Nietzel called the plant a “once-in-a-century opportunity” for the state. He insisted that job tax credits will be tied to the number of jobs created. If the company creates only 3,000 jobs, the tax break would therefore be smaller, he said. But Hogan still said the company plans to employ 13,000 by 2022.
Nietzel said if Foxconn wants to invest $10 billion in a plant the company will hire people to work there. He acknowledged that the plant will be highly automated but that simply means the jobs will be “fairly high-end,” he said. The vast majority of employees — more than 90 percent — will be Wisconsin residents, he predicted.
“(The facility is) creating a whole new ecosystem,” Nietzel said. “It’s creating an industry that’s not here.”
Sen. Lena Taylor of Milwaukee railed against the bill, saying she can’t believe some lawmakers have voted on it without seeing the contract WEDC is negotiating with Foxconn to execute the bill. She also said she’s worried about the environmental exemptions. The bill lifts the requirements for state agencies to perform environmental impact statements and permitting requirements to fill state wetlands.
The measure does require the company to mitigate two acres of wetlands for every one acre lost, a higher standard than the 1.2 acres mitigated for every acre lost found in current state law. The company would still have to obtain air and water pollution permits. But all that didn’t assuage Taylor.
“I just don’t believe this cake is done baking in the oven,” she said.
Rep. Gordon Hintz of Oshkosh said he’s worried that Foxconn has made fantastic investment pledges around the world that haven’t materialized. He questioned what happens to the plant when liquid-crystal displays become obsolete.
Nietzel responded that Foxconn wants to locate in the United States because the nation is the country’s largest electronics consumer. He reiterated Foxconn won’t get the payroll tax credits if they don’t create jobs.
“People have been looking for guarantees,” Republican Rep. John Nygren, the committee’s co-chairman, said. “I think there’s probably one guarantee we can count on. If we don’t provide this incentive package would Foxconn come to Wisconsin?”
“No,” Nietzel said. “They’ll go to another state.”
The committee wasn’t expected to vote on the bill Tuesday.
Walker gave a presentation Tuesday morning alongside University of Wisconsin Hospital doctors and other university leaders to talk about the plant’s statewide benefit. He promised the facility would keep college graduates in the state and help startups and existing businesses that could become part of the plant’s supply chain.
Associated Press writer Scott Bauer also contributed to this report.