President Donald Trump and Gov. Scott Walker grabbed a pair of golden shovels on Thursday and began moving piles of dirt under the hot June sun to mark the start of work on the Foxconn Technology Group project.
The long-planned groundbreaking took place in front of a massive American flag held aloft by a pair of construction cranes at Foxconn’s factory site in Mount Pleasant. Trump and Walker were joined by Foxconn CEO Terry Gou, House Speaker Paul Ryan and the first Foxconn employee from Wisconsin, a man named Christopher Murdock.
“America is open for business more than it has ever been open for business,” Trump thundered after visiting the Foxconn site. “Made in the USA: It’s all happening and it’s happening very, very quickly. Today we’re seeing the results of the pro-America agenda. America First, Make America Great Again. Greatest phrase ever used in politics, I suspect.”
Miles away, in downtown Mount Pleasant, protesters, including Democrats hoping to unseat Walker this fall, gathered to disavow the project — decrying what they said would be its harmful effects on the environment and the $4.5 billion worth of taxpayer subsidies the company could receive if it hits certain hiring and spending goals.
Among the hundreds who gathered on Thursday at Mount Pleasant’s Smolenski Park were the Democrats Matt Flynn and Mahlon Mitchell, who are both running in a crowded race to win their party’s nomination to take on Walker in the fall.
Flynn has promised to challenge the Foxconn deal in court if he’s elected.
“We can’t have weakness with these people,” he said on Thursday, referring to Foxconn. “We’re going to pollute lake Michigan, they have filled in wetlands, they didn’t have to file an environmental-impact statement and they are exempt from the court of appeals’ jurisdiction. I will go in and stop it.”
Democrats gained one more reason last week to criticize Foxconn.
In an interview with BizTimes, Louis Woo, special assistant to Foxconn chairman Terry Gou, said the company will be scaling back the size of the screens it will produce at the Foxconn plant. Although Woo said the company would not abandon its intention of spending $10 billion in Wisconsin, analysts say the company seems to have moved away from its previous plans to produce so-called Generation 10.5 screens in Wisconsin. The company is more likely to make Generation 6 screens, which can be produced using smaller sheets of glass.
Mitchell, for his part, said Foxconn has a “shady ” past. He wouldn’t be surprised if the company fell short of its $10 billion spending goal.
“I don’t hope for anything to fail,” Mitchell said. “I think Foxconn’s a bad deal, no doubt. I would never have given $4.5 billion dollars to a company with a checkered past. But you never want anything to fail, right?
Back at the groundbreaking site, Walker and his allies contended the Foxconn project will transform the state’s economy. Walker said, “This will make us a brain gain state, not a brain drain state.”
Speaking earlier in the day on WTMJ radio, Walker said Foxconn Technology Group’s $10 billion investment in southeastern Wisconsin will turn the area into a global center for advanced manufacturing and high-technology innovations. He said other states offered more than Wisconsin to attract the Taiwanese manufacturer, saying that Wisconsin merely put enough on the table to win.
Walker also cited a Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce study that estimated the development will add $51 billion to Wisconsin’s economy over the course of the 15 years that the state pays incentives to the company.
Wisconsin Assembly Speaker Robin Vos said Democratic opponents of Foxconn are trying to score political points against Trump and Walker.
U.S. Rep. Glenn Grothman, of Wisconsin, said, “There are people who are against any development whatsoever.” He says people in general like the idea of more jobs.
And former Republican Gov. Tommy Thompson said, “You can’t do anything without opposition.”
Earlier in the day, protesters had gathered as Trump traveled to the groundbreaking site from a fundraiser held Thursday morning at the Pfister Hotel in Milwaukee. Chants of “Hey, hey, Ho, ho. Donald Trump has got to go” were heard outside the hotel.
About 50 people walked from a downtown park to stand as close as they could get to the Pfister, which was roped off. An even bigger protest took place later in the day in Mount Pleasant, where not all residents have embraced the project.
Steve Anderson, who lives near the Foxconn site, said on Thursday that he’s trying to keep an open mind about the project. Anderson attended a rally that attracted hundreds of opponents of the project.
Anderson, a 63-year-old substitute teacher, said he thinks Foxconn “definitely would be a major boost economically.” He said his top concern is air pollution.
Patrick Schelble of Milwaukee came to the rally carrying a sign that said “People and planet over corporate profits.” He says the Foxconn deal was reached behind closed doors.
– The Associated Press contributed to this article