Hoffman Construction and Gestra Engineering are the big winners in the first round of bidding for the $10 billion plant Foxconn Technology Group is building in Racine County.
Foxconn and its lead contractors—Gilbane Building Co. and M+W Group—made that announcement on Thursday at an event held at the project’s site in Mount Pleasant. Hoffman Construction, of Black River Falls, will be responsible for work related to site excavation, storm-water management and erosion control, and Gestra, a minority-owned company out of Milwaukee, will perform soil testing.
M+W and Gilbane released the first bid package for the project in March. With crews also delivering the first batch of construction equipment needed for the Foxconn plant on Thursday, construction is likely to get underway at the site soon. The excavation work is expected to employ 400 workers, 80 percent of whom live in Wisconsin.
Louis Woo, a Foxconn executive, said Wednesday that 90 percent of the construction firms that have won work so far on the plant are also from Wisconsin, including 10 percent from Racine County. Racine Mayor Cory Mason praised Foxconn for ensuring local companies are finding work on the project.
“This is the best economic opportunity to come to our region in a generation,” Mason said. “This is about returning to this area the dignity of work. ”
Thursday’s announcement was welcome news to companies planning for an already-busy construction season.
Earlier in the day, Ray Rosenow, store manager of Franklin Equipment’s Racine County site in Franksville, had said he was eagerly awaiting more details about which companies will work on the project.
The rental-equipment company is expecting to see a surge in business from the Foxconn plant. But without more specifics, it’s hard to know exactly what he should be doing to make sure his equipment is ready to go when Foxconn needs it.
“We can pull from different stores, but we need to know what that inventory is going to be,” Rosenow said. “They know it’s coming, they are aware. They want to pump our fleet up, but it’s going to be dependent on what’s happening.”
Meanwhile, many people in the state continue to wonder where the 10,000 workers needed to build Foxconn’s factory will come from.
With Wisconsin’s unemployment rate at a record low and its labor-force participation near a record high, companies must look for aptitude — not just credentials —in new workers, a panel of experts told a packed crowd at a Daily Reporter forum ahead of Thursday’s announcement.
“The (companies) that have been really successful have realized that they shouldn’t hire for specific skills, but hire for competency,” said Laurie Meyer, of law firm Davis & Kuelthau. “The point is you need to start getting smart about identifying transferable skills.”
Trades representatives and others have responded to the labor shortage by forming new groups meant to connect people with training programs. In early April, the Wisconsin Regional Training Partnership’s Big Step training program, which was started in Milwaukee, opened a new branch in Racine specifically in response to the demand for Foxconn workers.
Trades groups are also reaching out to kids who are high-school age or younger.
Rebecca Dominiczak, office administrator at Ozinga Ready Mix’s Milwaukee office, began reaching out to local school officials in January, delivering a talk about the rewards of her career and how she got to where she is. Ozinga, like many other companies, is now struggling to find skilled workers.
“It’s building that relationship for the future,” Dominiczak said. “We’ve just started in January, and I’m sure we’ll see it come to fruition in a couple years.”
Also, M+W and Gilbane have said they will try to award 70 percent of the job hours worked on the Foxconn project to Wisconsin workers. Although that figure is not a strict requirement that would impose penalties if it weren’t met, it will still put employers under pressure to recruit in-state workers instead of bringing people in from elsewhere, said Chris Gulbrandson, business manager at the International Brotherhood of Electricity Workers Local 430, in Racine.
“With Gilbane putting a 70 percent requirement, it’s a huge strain on that already tight labor market,” Gulbrandson said. “We would probably rely on outside help from other states. With those goals, we’ve definitely stepped up our partnerships with new organizations that can help us with that recruitment effort.”Follow @natebeck9
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