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EDITORIAL: Foxconn bidding process should be transparent

foxconn-hhm-adIn directing contractors to sign up at to learn of Foxconn bidding opportunities, state officials were taking a step in the right direction.

It’s not enough, though.

The officials overseeing this historic project also have an obligation to tell the public who is winning this work, and why.

Lest we forget, let’s take a moment to remind ourselves once more of the extraordinary subsidies Foxconn Technology Group is in line to receive in return for building a $10 billion factory in southeast Wisconsin.

From state government alone, it’s as much as $3 billion. Then there are the hundreds of millions in local-government incentives and state expenditures on road projects connected to Foxconn’s plans. A recent analysis by the nonpartisan Legislative Fiscal Bureau found that the cost of such additional assistance could easily run to $1.5 billion.

With so much taxpayer money on the table, few would argue that the Foxconn factory should be treated like an ordinary private construction project. The only question is: Just how public should information pertaining to the project be?

The state, M+W Gilbane and Foxconn are on the right track by putting Foxconn contracts out to bid. But that doesn’t go far enough. They should also take steps to ensure the awarding process is transparent.

The public, for starters, should be able to learn which subcontractors won which Foxconn-related jobs. More than that, though, they are owed some sort of explanation of why one particular contractor was picked over its rivals.

So far, the state and Foxconn have been mostly mum. There has been little said, for instance, to explain why a joint venture formed between Gilbane Building Co. and M+W Group was picked.

The statements that have been released have mostly been acknowledgements of the obvious — that both Gilbane and M+W are both big companies with a history of delivering unwieldy, complex projects.

Granted, Gilbane is probably one of the very few companies out there that are equipped to handle what is likely to be the biggest construction project in Wisconsin’s history. But did any Wisconsin-based companies try to be the big contractor on this job? And, if so, why were they passed over?

But even if the choice of the big contractors was more or less foreordained, questions about who is winning work and why will abound once subcontracts start to be awarded.

State officials, after all, should remember that taxpayers don’t simply expect Wisconsinites to work in Foxconn’s factory following its completion. They also expect Wisconsin construction employers and employees to help build it.

With that in mind, those in charge of the Foxconn project should make it a point to provide answers to a few basic questions.

For instance: What are the exact criteria being used to select subcontractors for the Foxconn project? Are Wisconsin companies being favored in some way over out-of-state rivals? What about companies that are owned by women, minorities and service-disabled veterans? And will contractors seeking to work on the Foxconn factory first have to sign onto a project-labor agreement, even if they are nonunion companies?

Since this a private project, the state, M+W Gilbane and Foxconn are under no obligation to release any of this information.

But it’s hardly a secret that Gov. Scott Walker has had a tough sell on his hands with his proposal to provide one of the wealthiest technology companies in the world with up to $3 billion worth of subsidies. Taking steps to show that Wisconsin companies have benefited from the project — and have been treated fair while trying to win the work — would go a long way toward winning over the skeptics.

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