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Wait and see right approach on Foxconn

Monday’s announcement that Gov. Tony Evers had negotiated a new deal with Foxconn wasn’t entirely a shock. The state had long expressed dissatisfaction with the company’s follow-through on its original deal, and there had been strong signals it would be significantly altered.

According to Evers, the new agreement “works for everyone.” That’s an optimistic appraisal given Foxconn’s history, and one that Wisconsin can only hope is accurate.

To recap, Foxconn struck a deal worth nearly $4 billion in tax incentives with former Gov. Scott Walker in 2017. The company promised a $10 billion flat screen panel manufacturer in Mount Pleasant, and the employment of as many as 13,000 people. That didn’t happen. The project was pared back until the state said Foxconn would not qualify for the incentives.

We’re going to stop short of speculating on just what has kept Foxconn, a major international manufacturer, from living up to its part of the deal. There are several possibilities. One is the rapid development of technologies at the heart of Foxconn’s business. The original downsizing of its factory cited that, shifting from plans to make one type of screen to another that’s thinner and smaller.

That’s a less convincing explanation of other developments, though. Other ideas have been announced and then shut down in short order. And, although COVID has undoubtedly had an effect, we don’t believe the company’s near-total paralysis can be blamed solely on the pandemic.

Last month the company suggested it was considering making electric vehicles in Mount Pleasant. Again, we’re not holding our breath.

Foxconn has incentives to live up to this agreement that go beyond the taxes. It doesn’t want to be associated with the reputation that arises when a company fails to live up to multiple contracts. Its credibility is at stake. A second blown opportunity couldn’t avoid leading other states — even countries — to rethink Foxconn as a viable partner in the future. That’s not in their best interests.

Lest people misunderstand our view of the situation, let’s be clear that we hope this deal really does work for everyone. Such an outcome would be to the betterment of Wisconsin, the places in which Foxconn has promised development, and the company itself.

That said, we don’t think it’s unreasonable to watch with some skepticism. The past four years have seen plenty of grand promises with precious little to show for them. There’s a point at which broken promises hold development back. People can credibly claim the Haymarket Landing would have been a much more attractive location had Foxconn not gotten involved. Until the company follows through, that’s a hard claim to refute.

We’ll wait and see what happens. We don’t really have much choice. But it’s clear that there’s a lot at stake for everyone involved. Evers’ political future may well hinge on it. The development of a significant location in Eau Claire certainly does.

It comes down to one thing: which part of Foxconn’s name is more apt? Time will tell if it’s the fox, or the con.

– Eau Claire Leader-Telegram

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