After a flood of major construction projects in 2018, the economy in the year to come isn’t showing signs of slowing.
Two new skyscrapers could come to downtown Milwaukee. Contractors are embarking on a record number of public school construction projects around the state. And hundreds of millions of dollars worth of work is underway near Foxconn Technology Group’s factory in Mount Pleasant.
The surge of development has brought problems of its own, such as a shortage of skilled labor and fast-rising materials prices. But it’s a far cry from a decade ago when Wisconsin was sliding deeper into a painful recession.
Here are a handful of projects and policies that could keep the construction industry humming in 2019.
The construction project that promises to be the largest in state history got underway last spring — less than a year after rumors of the company’s interest in Wisconsin first emerged.
Since then the company, along with state and local governments, has awarded hundreds of millions of dollars worth of work on the early etchings of Foxconn’s factory itself, and on infrastructure needed to support it.
Although opinions of the state’s deal with Foxconn remain sharply divided, crews are forging ahead nonetheless and developers are making moves to position themselves for a surge in demand for housing and other necessities that come with a sudden injection of 13,000 jobs into Racine County, as the company has promised.
On phase one of its $10 billion factory, Foxconn released three major bids this year to prepare the site, construct utilities and build the company’s first structure, a multipurpose building. In 2019, Foxconn and lead contractors Gilbane and M+W Group are planning to roll out two more large bid packages.
One multi-phase package, to be released in the first or second quarter of 2019, calls for procuring materials, equipment and other components of the company’s massive manufacturing plant. Because of the facility’s scale and specifications, procuring some of these components could take as long as a year. Some functions of the factory will be foreign to Wisconsin companies. For instance, Foxconn has said it will spend $30 million on a Zero Liquid Discharge system that recycles the millions of gallons of water a day that the company plans to pull from nearby Lake Michigan.
Additionally, in the second quarter of 2019, the company also plans to begin rolling out bids in numerous phases for underground infrastructure and foundation work needed to support the factory.
But work on Foxconn’s factory itself is just part of a series of projects underway in Racine County to support the company. The Racine Water Utility, for instance, plans to ultimately spend $120 million to upgrade its water infrastructure for Foxconn and companies that are expected to move in nearby in Mount Pleasant. The Wisconsin Department of Transportation is also overseeing more than a half-billion dollars worth of roadwork for Foxconn.
MILWAUKEE’S HARBOR DISTRICT
On the back of a recent wave of development in Milwaukee, two projects promise to reshape a long-neglected section of the city.
Komatsu Mining plans to build a $285 million North American headquarters and manufacturing facility on a lakefront site in the city. Brownsville utility contractor Michels Corp. also announced plans last summer for a multi-phase mixed-use development blocks away that could ultimately top $100 million.
Both projects are expected to get underway in 2019, with the first phase of the Michels project slated to break ground within 90 days.
The two developments are expected to change the city’s Harbor District, a former industrial hub between the city’s Third Ward and Bay View neighborhoods. The Komatsu project, for instance, is thought to be the largest urban manufacturing facility underway in the U.S.
State and local officials have committed millions to prodding the projects along. The Milwaukee Common Council recently approved financing packages for the projects that could total $47 million. The city is providing tax incentives to support the Komatsu project and will spend millions on infrastructure work to build up both sites. The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., meanwhile, is kicking in nearly $60 million to the Komatsu project.
NEW SKYSCRAPERS IN MILWAUKEE
A new skyscraper could join another under construction next year in downtown Milwaukee if all goes as planned.
The developer of the Couture high-rise is awaiting final word from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development on whether it will qualify for a grant to support the $122 million project. The 44-story tower is slated to occupy a lakefront site that will also serve as a hub for the city’s new streetcar, The Hop.
Meanwhile, work continues on the $132.6 million BMO Tower, across the street from Milwaukee City Hall. The project marked two major milestones in 2018, including the installation of a 280-foot crane that will guide construction of the project, and the completion of a marathon concrete pour that lasted nearly a full day. Crews aim to complete the 25-story office and parking complex by December 2019.
WISCONSIN’S ROAD FUNDING RIDDLE
Could 2019 bring a break from Wisconsin’s long-criticized road-building policies? Or is more gridlock ahead?
It’s an unsettled question as a Democrat governor takes office alongside Republican majorities in both houses of the state Legislature.
During a fierce campaign, Gov.-elect Tony Evers often took aim at his predecessor, Scott Walker, for letting the state’s roads fall into a state of disrepair. Evers faulted Walker for failing to deploy tax increases to pay for the state’s roads, favoring a regime of borrowing and short-term fixes instead.
A chorus of critics complained that Wisconsin was operating without a clear plan to pay for its roads, and cited a litany of surveys that placed the state near the bottom in national rankings of road quality.
But Evers has remained unflappably vague about how he’d pay for roadwork, saying he’d seek a collective solution — one that he hopes doesn’t necessitate a tax increase. On Friday, Evers announced Craig Thompson as his choice to lead the Department of Transportation. Thompson is the executive director of the Wisconsin Transportation Development Association.
Evers is also tasked with drawing up a budget for the next biennium that will outline how he’d like to pay for road projects. It’s doubtful that proposal will be met with unilateral support from Republicans leading the legislature.
A little-discussed provision tucked into a bill passed during the Legislature’s controversial lame-duck session could make it even harder for Evers to put together a road-funding plan. The provision requires WisDOT to consolidate federal money into fewer projects, thereby limiting requirements such as prevailing wage and bidding incentives to help minority-, women- and veteran-owned contractors. Follow @“natebeck9”