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View from around the state: Don’t fret yet over Foxconn’s twists and turns

Foxconn’s confusing explanations for what it plans to build in Racine County haven’t changed this reassuring fact: Wisconsin didn’t pay a dime to the Taiwanese company last year for jobs the technology manufacturer has pledged to create.

That’s reassuring because it shows the contract former Gov. Scott Walker signed with the company requires Foxconn to hire people and build things in Wisconsin before it can benefit from generous state subsidies.

Foxconn reported hiring 178 full-time employees in Wisconsin at the end of the year, which was 82 short of the minimum to claim state payouts. It can still collect millions in state assistance in the coming year — and billions over time — if hiring and construction pick up. But the contract appears to guard state taxpayers from being gouged if Foxconn’s plans fall apart.

Originally, Foxconn pledged to build flat screens for large televisions and other applications. Then it changed its tune, saying it would build smaller screens. Then last week, Louis Woo, a top Foxconn official, told Reuters the company was rethinking its project in Mount Pleasant, about 100 miles southeast of Madison in Racine County. The company might not build display screens here after all, Woo said, and a research hub was now possible.

Then on Friday, Foxconn went back to saying it would build small screens, with President Donald Trump claiming he had restored the deal. In reality, it wasn’t Trump or Walker that ultimately brought Foxconn here. It was more than $4 billion in state and local tax subsidies — an enormous sum that, coupled with other public assistance for manufacturers in Wisconsin, was far more than any other state was offering the company.

Foxconn has dropped plans for projects in other communities in the past, and Trump is a chronic exaggerator. So Wisconsin will have to wait and see what finally rises on the farm fields of Racine County.

But state leaders and taxpayers shouldn’t fret just yet over the ongoing twists and turns in this story. Foxconn is in the global technology business, after all, which can change fast. So the state should grant the company some flexibility. Foxconn still appears positioned to spur technology and growth here. And if the project moves slower and turns out to be smaller than touted, that also reduces the risk and cost to taxpayers.

After Woo’s abrupt comments last week, top Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin quickly pointed fingers at the new Democratic governor for supposedly ruining their Foxconn splurge. Gov. Tony Evers, in contrast, reacted calmly after speaking with Woo by phone. Evers said he’s comfortable Foxconn is committed to the state, though he wants more transparency and better communication from the company. That’s a reasonable request. He also should push Foxconn for better pollution control if a large plant is built.

Foxconn originally pledged to create up to 13,000 jobs, and it repeated that number Friday. Less clear is if it still plans to invest $10 billion here.

Wisconsin should hope for the best, yet demand strict verification of jobs and construction before writing Foxconn any checks.

— From the Wisconsin State Journal

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