By GRETCHEN EHLKE
MILWAUKEE (AP) — Foxconn Technology Group will cast a wide net to find the 13,000 workers it eventually expects to hire at its new North American manufacturing plant, working with universities and technical schools and even recruiting members of the military who are returning to civilian life.
The liquid-crystal-display panels that Foxconn will produce in southeastern Wisconsin, at the first LCD panel-glass fabrication plant in the United States, will be used in a wide range of devices and systems, including televisions, monitors, electronic notebooks and self-driving cars.
The Taiwanese company is spending $10 billion to build a 20-million-square-foot campus, a project as big about 350 football fields, along an interstate about halfway between Milwaukee and Chicago.
With Wisconsin’s 2.9 percent unemployment near a record low, Foxconn may struggle to find all the workers it will eventually need.
“It presents a workforce challenge for the state of Wisconsin and the region,” said Jim Paetsch, a vice president at Milwaukee 7, a regional economic development group. “It’s all hands on deck with the economy as it is.”
Paetsch said the answer, in part, lies outside Wisconsin.
“We have a demographic problem,” Paetsch said. “We’re not growing at the same rate as the United States as a whole. Foxconn gives us an opportunity to reverse the demographic trend by recruiting and drawing populations from other states.”
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, a public-private agency promoting business, will spend $1 million this fiscal year to promote Wisconsin’s career and living advantages for workers in the Chicago area, as well as to alumni of the state’s universities who have moved away. Other Midwestern cities, including Detroit and Minneapolis, may also be included.
The endeavor calls for changing some stereotypes about Wisconsin, said Mark Maley, a WEDC spokesman.
“We have done perception studies around the country and what you hear is beer, cheese and Packers and sometimes cold weather,” Maley said. “There’s a lot more to Wisconsin.”
The $6.8 million campaign is also reaching out to military veterans who are preparing to leave active duty and hunting for their next job. Kathy Still, state assistant deputy secretary for veterans affairs, said veterans make attractive hires.
“They know how to show up to work and bring a lot of soft skills, including leadership,” Still said.
Hiring veterans has been part of Foxconn’s plans from the start. Already two veterans are on board to recruit as many as 3,000 others to Foxconn. And, in an agreement with Rockwell Automation Inc., Foxconn committed to hiring graduates of a program that’s working to train 1,000 veterans by 2020.
Foxconn has said it will need thousands of engineers at its complex in the Racine County community of Mount Pleasant. A big part of finding those engineers will be the partnerships the company is building with colleges, universities and technical schools.
Levi Speckman was not aware of Foxconn when he enrolled in electrical-engineering classes at Gateway Technical College in southeastern Wisconsin two years ago.
But now, as Speckman, 19, prepares to transfer to Milwaukee School of Engineering to complete his undergraduate degree, Foxconn is very much a part of his life and he hopes will be his future.
“I hope to be engineering the product they produce,” Speckman said of Foxconn’s plans to build the “largest corporate attraction project in U.S. history as measured by jobs,” according to the WEDC.
Speckman worked as an intern this summer at Foxconn’s temporary testing site near the spot where ground was broken in June by President Donald Trump, Walker and other politicians to signal the start of the construction of the massive campus.
“I’m doing maintenance and repair for the production line and testing out some different technology,” said Speckman, who will try for a permanent job at Foxconn when he finishes his degree at MSOE.
Foxconn is also working with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee to recruit engineering students. A recently signed agreement between the company and university will initially involve five UWM students who will spend time with Foxconn in Wisconsin this fall, then travel to Taiwan in February to take classes and begin work on applied-research projects at Chung Yuan Christian University through June 2019. They will complete their degrees back in Wisconsin, possibly while working for Foxconn.
UWM Chancellor Mark Mone says the partnership will be a model for other universities that want to enter into such an agreement.
It will give students “a valuable hands-on international working experience and apply their learning in a real world, global environment,” Louis Woo, special assistant to Foxconn founder and CEO Terry Gou, said when announcing the UWM agreement.
Beyond the partnerships with technical schools, colleges and universities, Milwaukee leaders hope Foxconn will tap a pocket of workers located about 2 miles from its downtown headquarters.
UWM’s Center for Economic Development found that only 36 percent of working-age males are employed in the 53206 ZIP code, and the poverty rate for children there is about 66 percent.
“As excited as I am about the renaissance that’s occurring in the heart of the city, I lie awake at night because there are parts of this city where we have not seen the jobs,” Mayor Tom Barrett said when Foxconn announced its downtown headquarters in June. “My hope is this presence here for Foxconn is going to have a multiplier effect not just in the heart of the city, but outside the heart of the city as well. There are too many people that live in poverty still.”
Milwaukee Common Council President Ashanti Hamilton said the city needs to work to make the most of the opportunity presented by Foxconn.
“If we don’t have a very intentional way of being able to connect those people to the opportunities that are being provided right now, then we’ll still miss the boat,” Hamilton said.
Foxconn, also known as the Hon Hai Precision Industry Co., Ltd., has its headquarters in New Taipei City, Taiwan and has plants in Asia, Europe and Latin America. Woo has said he doesn’t think 13,000 workers is asking for too much
“I think that’s where the innovations, where the high technology, where the talents are,” said Woo. “If you don’t come here to harness this pool of talent you would be foolish.”