President Donald Trump announced on July 26 that Foxconn Technology Group plans a new factory in Wisconsin, fulfilling the Taiwanese manufacturing giant’s promise to invest in the U.S.
The factory, which will produce LCD display monitors, will open in the home district of House Speaker Paul Ryan, a Wisconsin Republican who personally lobbied Trump and White House chief of staff Reince Priebus to help secure the plant. The White House’s Office of Innovation, led by Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner, led administration efforts to land the $10 billion facility, according to a White House official who requested anonymity to discuss the deal before the announcement.
Trump applauded the investment in a White House ceremony with Foxconn chairman Terry Gou calling it “a great day for American workers and American manufacturing” and taking credit for the company’s decision to build the factory in the U.S.
"If I didn’t get elected, he definitely would not be spending $10 billion," Trump said, turning toward Gou.
The plant is expected to employ about 3,000 people at first, though it could eventually provide as many as 13,000 jobs, the official said.
The decision to place the factory in Ryan’s southeastern Wisconsin district is a political win for the speaker, whose relationship with Trump has at times been strained. It’s also a victory for Priebus, a fellow Wisconsinite who has recently seen two White House allies, Press Secretary Sean Spicer and spokesman Michael Short, depart the administration after Trump overruled his chief of staff and hired Anthony Scaramucci as his communications director.
Ryan, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, and Vice President Mike Pence also were on stage at the White House for the announcement.
The company has said it hopes to increase its investment in U.S. manufacturing, with a focus on building flat-panel screens. Economic development officials from Illinois, Indiana, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Wisconsin all vied for Foxconn’s first U.S. plant, and the company viewed its location decision at least in part through a political lens, one person familiar with the matter said.
Ryan and Priebus were personally involved in securing the factory for Wisconsin. Ryan met with Foxconn executives on June 20 in Washington to pitch them on the state, and three weeks later, held a dinner along with Walker for company officials. Ryan’s staff also met with Foxconn executives to discuss federal programs the company could use related to workforce development and training.
Wisconsin and the federal government will provide Foxconn a package of tax breaks and other incentives worth as much as $3 billion, according to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. The details of that agreement have not yet been made public.
The selection of Wisconsin, where the 3.1%t unemployment rate is already the lowest level recorded since October 1999, is an indication that the Trump administration is focusing its economic development efforts on swing states the president will need to hold to win re-election. Trump won the state by just over 27,000 votes last year.
White House officials, asked if politics played a role in the decision, said they advocated for locations with a workforce and business climate where Foxconn could best succeed. The officials said they were told by Gou and other company executives that the decision was also motivated by the administration’s deregulation push, as well as the president’s efforts to secure an overhaul of the tax code and new spending on infrastructure.
The company has told the White House it hopes the Wisconsin plant is the first of several in the U.S., the officials said.
Priebus had previously hinted that Wisconsin could be the winner of the multistate competition for the new factory from Foxconn, best known for its role assembling Apple Inc.’s iPhones. The chief of staff said in an interview with Milwaukee radio station WTMJ that Trump had noticed vacant land during an April visit to Kenosha County.
"He said, ‘That land should be used.’ So when Foxconn came into the White House, into the Oval Office, the president said, ’I know a good spot that you should go to, that place in Kenosha,’" Priebus said.
And Trump, in an interview on July 25 with the Wall Street Journal, said Foxconn was strongly considering putting the plant in Wisconsin. He predicted that workers from rust belt states like New York would move to states like Wisconsin that were adding manufacturing jobs.
"I’m going to start explaining to people: When you have an area that just isn’t working like upper New York state, where people are getting very badly hurt, and then you’ll have another area 500 miles away where you can’t get people, I’m going to explain, you can leave," he said. "It’s OK. Don’t worry about your house.”
By Justin Sink