A prominent roadbuilder contends he isn’t being inconsistent by pursuing work related to the Foxconn project in southeastern Wisconsin several years after a slew of Republican-backed policies had him threatening to move much of his business to Minnesota.
He’s just being a wise businessman.
Jim Hoffman, president of Black River Falls-based Hoffman Construction, said his critics are missing the mark when they say his recent actions are out of keeping with his previous statements. In 2015, when Republican lawmakers adopted a so-called right-to-work law, Hoffman complained loudly that Wisconsin had become hostile to his sort of company. Any expansion plans he might have, he said, would now center on Minnesota.
A little more than two years later, though, Hoffman announced he would be opening an office somewhere in southeast Wisconsin in response to the Taiwanese company Foxconn Technology Group’s plan to open a $10 billion factory in Racine County. Hoffman Construction has since won a $12.7 million contract to rebuild frontage roads along the stretch of Interstate 94 running near the Foxconn site.
Hoffman said there has been no inconsistency on his part.
“I said it back then, and I’ll say it again: It’s not about politics. It’s about business,” he said. “This is strictly about a businessman following my market.”
Conservative critics were quick to accuse Hoffman of talking out both sides of his mouth.
“We’re still wondering if Hoffman will remember that part of the reason Foxconn chose Wisconsin was the state’s Right-to-Work law,” read a column published this week on the website Right Wisconsin.
Hoffman said he has always made it clear that he will do whatever he deems best for his business. He said his opportunities are now far different from what they were in 2015.
“Back then I saw my market growing in Minnesota, not in Wisconsin,” Hoffman said. “And when it comes to work coming into place at Foxconn, yeah, we are going to follow our market.”
Hoffman was among a large group of unionized contractors who argued that right-to-work laws unnecessarily interfere in matters that are best left to employers and labor groups. Right-to-work laws, which are in place in 28 states, generally ban labor-contract clauses that require workers to pay union dues as a condition of employment at certain companies.
Proponents of right-to-work laws argue that workers should have no obligation to support unions in order to stay employed. They also contend that right-to-work laws give states an advantage in their efforts to attract manufacturers and other businesses.
Hoffman, though, questioned whether Wisconsin’s right-to-work law had really played much of a role in drawing Foxconn to Wisconsin.
“I really don’t know if it was right to work, or our location near so much water or our workforce,” he said.
State officials have also offered Foxconn as much as $3 billion worth of incentives on the condition that the company meet certain hiring and spending goals.
Wisconsin’s right-to-work law is not the only state policy that Hoffman has opposed in recent years. He was also against Republican lawmakers’ decision to repeal Wisconsin’s long-standing prevailing-wage laws and has argued that recent budgets have not put enough money toward highway rehabilitation and expansion projects.
At the same time, Hoffman has said that he generally considers himself a Republican.Follow @TDR_WLJDan