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Foxconn buys downtown Racine building for ‘smart cities’ laboratory

Alan Yeung, Foxconn U.S. director of strategic initiatives, announces the company has bought a 3-story building in downtown Racine that will serve as a research and development center just 9 miles from the $10 billion factory Foxconn is building in Mount Pleasant. (Staff photo by Nate Beck)

Alan Yeung, Foxconn U.S. director of strategic initiatives, announces the company has bought a 3-story building in downtown Racine that will serve as a research and development center just 9 miles from the $10 billion factory Foxconn is building in Mount Pleasant. (Staff photo by Nate Beck)

Foxconn Technology Group has bought a three-story building in downtown Racine to house a research and development center — just 9 miles from its main manufacturing plant in Mount Pleasant, where construction is already underway.

The company’s purchase of a building in downtown Racine follows on similar acquisitions in Green Bay and Eau Claire, where the company has also bought space for innovation centers, and another in downtown Milwaukee, where Foxconn plans to have its North American headquarters.

In Racine, Foxconn has bought One Main Centre, a three-story, 46,000-square-foot building that overlooks the spot where the Root River flows into Lake Michigan. Alan Yeung, U.S. director of strategic initiatives for Foxconn, said the site in downtown Racine will be where the company tests out “smart city” projects using technologies developed by Foxconn. The projects could involve everything from designing attractive street layouts, building transportation networks to designing innovative living accommodations, improving the way people learn and improving the delivery of health services.

Yeung said there’s a simple reason why Foxconn wants to build its innovation center in downtown Racine instead of in Mount Pleasant, where construction of its massive factory complex is underway.

“It is difficult to build a smart city without a city,” Yeung said.

Foxconn Place Racine promises to employ 125 people. Foxconn has released a series of requests for proposals seeking out design firms to overhaul buildings selected for similar innovation centers in Eau Claire and Green Bay, as well as its headquarters in Milwaukee. On Tuesday, though, Foxconn officials made no announcement about plans to seek a redesign of the building in Racine.

Mark Hogan, chief executive of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., said the money Foxconn is putting into purchases and renovations of buildings in Racine will have no influence on the tax incentives the company receives in return for hitting various spending on hiring goals. Foxconn stands to get as much as $4.5 billion worth of tax incentives if it spends a certain amount of money and hires a certain number of workers. It does get credit, though, for the jobs it creates in Eau Claire and elsewhere.

The company’s decision to move into university towns will meanwhile help it recruit the sorts of companies and people it has said it’s seeking to work with. Foxconn officials recently said that as many as 90 percent of the 13,000 workers they have promised to hire in Wisconsin will work in fields like engineering, leaving only 10 percent who would do tasks like work on assembly lines.

“I think if you look at Eau Claire, Green Bay, they are aligning themselves with the university systems, the technical colleges,” Hogan said. “That’s where the talent is. Realistically, that’s where they are going to get the talent. This is their strategy of going where the talent is in the state.”

Racine County Mayor Cory Mason welcomed Foxconn’s plans for downtown Racine. He said the company’s work in Mount Pleasant this past year has already brought more development than the city has seen in the past two decades.

He said Foxconn’s new building is another visible reminder of the company’s plans to use Racine as a testing grounds for new technologies that could later be applied elsewhere. Mason declined to say specifically what kind of technologies Foxconn could bring to the city, saying “there’s more to come on that.”

Yeung likewise said the company is committed to Racine and Wisconsin.

“I understand people want to question Foxconn’s commitment to Wisconsin,” Yeung said. “We will be here this time next year, we will be here five years from now and we will be here a lot long after that.”

About Nate Beck, nbeck@dailyreporter.com

Nate Beck is The Daily Reporter's construction staff writer. He can be reached at (414) 225-1814 (office) or 414-388-5635 (mobile).

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