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With Foxconn needing 10,000 workers, resource fair drums up interest in trades

Allen Bryant of Racine (right) talks to Dave McCoy, a representative of the Iron Workers Local 8, during the Wisconn Valley Construction Resource Fair held on Thursday at the Racine County Civic Center’s Festival Hall. The job fair’s goal is to help Wisconsin residents learn what they need to do to get constructions jobs on the $10 billion factory Foxconn is building in southeast Wisconsin, as well as on related projects. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

Allen Bryant of Racine (left) talks to Dave McCoy, a representative of the Iron Workers Local 8, during the Wisconn Valley Construction Resource Fair held on Thursday at the Racine County Civic Center’s Festival Hall. The resource fair’s goal is to help Wisconsin residents learn what they need to do to get construction jobs on the $10 billion factory Foxconn is building in southeast Wisconsin, as well as on related projects. (Staff photo by Kevin Harnack)

A resource fair in Racine on Thursday marked the beginning of a hiring blitz to enlist construction workers for the $10 billion plant Foxconn Technology Group plans to build in southeast Wisconsin.

With the project expected to break ground within 60 days, the event drew contractors, college representatives, state officials and would-be workers to the Racine Civic Centre’s Festival Hall. Event organizers expected about 250 workers to attend.

The Taiwan-based Foxconn is now moving ahead with plans that will result in the largest construction project in state history. Building the plant, which will occupy at least 1,000 acres in the village of Mount Pleasant, is expected to require the labor of as many as 10,000 workers.

Thursday’s hiring event comes as Wisconsin reached a record low unemployment rate of 2.9 percent in February, according to preliminary numbers released by the Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development in mid-March.

David DeGroot, Mt. Pleasant board president, said the Foxconn factory itself is only one part of a bigger project. Workers will also be needed to build roads, utilities and other infrastructure.

“It’s actually two projects going on simultaneously,” DeGroot said. “There’s the infrastructure part of it, roads, sewer, electric fiber optic. All that is going on literally at the same time that they are going to have a groundbreaking, pushing real dirt around for the project itself.”

Despite Wisconsin’s low unemployment rate — which can be a sign of a tight labor market — the state’s rate of labor-force participation of 68.6 percent remains below its all-time high of 74.8 percent, which was recorded in 1992.

Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development Secretary Ray Allen said state officials are hopeful the Foxconn project will draw long-unemployed or underemployed people back into the labor market.

“I think this is a unique opportunity for this community and certainly for the state of Wisconsin to interact and seek opportunities for jobs, given our low unemployment rate” Allen said. “So it’s a great place for people that need a job and those that want to upscale from the jobs they are in.”

Allen said the DWD and others will most likely hold similar hiring events in other parts of Wisconsin in coming months. He’s not sure yet, he said, when Foxconn will break ground, or how many workers will need to be on-hand when it does.

For Elizabeth Roddy, recruitment and training director for Associated Builders and Contractors of Wisconsin, the event was a chance to connect would-be workers with companies hoping to hire.

Contractors that ABC represents are in great need of workers. Events like Thursday’s hiring fair, she said, will help meet that demand.

“Right now with the unemployment rate being so low, I don’t know how many people are looking for jobs at this point,” Roddy said. “We’re hoping those that are unemployed or underemployed are there and want to expand their knowledge. The great thing about construction is it isn’t a one-time thing.”

Meanwhile, Racine County Executive Jonathan Delgrave said local officials are bracing themselves for construction to start on the Foxconn project. The demand for workers could pinch other businesses if the Foxconn construction work starts drawing some of their employees away.

But hiring events like these may also help some clear hurdles that have long stood in the way of finding a job, Delgrave said.

“We’re very excited about how many people have shown up,” Delgrave said. “We know there’s a lot of people that need work. But it’s hard for people who are potentially unemployed or underemployed to walk in here.”

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