Trump: Foxconn CEO confided plant deal could swell to $30B

In this May 27, 2010, photo, a worker looks out through the logo at the entrance of the Foxconn complex in the southern Chinese city of Shenzhen.

KIN CHEUNG, ASSOCIATED PRESS

The Madison area is under consideration for a Foxconn development, separate from the huge, $10 billion flat-screen display factory the company plans to build in southeast Wisconsin, several sources with knowledge of the discussions said.

The Taiwanese manufacturer has asked for information about possible sites in Dane County and a project proposal could take shape within the next six weeks, one source said, adding that project plans are very fluid at this point. The source said, though, a specific site will take longer to choose.

Another source said Foxconn’s development here could involve a health-related business, such as a wearable product, a medical device or a research and development facility.

The two sources asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the talks.

Meanwhile, the Wisconsin State Journal has obtained a copy of an email sent last week by a regional business group seeking available locations for an unnamed company. The subject line was “Project Varsity Site Search.”

The company is looking for a 20-acre site in the Madison area on which it can build a 700,000-square-foot manufacturing plant that could employ as many as 650 people over the first five years of operation, according to the July 26 email the Madison Region Economic Partnership (MadREP) sent to city, county, UW-Madison and business officials around Dane County. July 26 was also the day Foxconn’s Wisconsin project was announced in Washington, D.C.

The MadREP note said the company plans to make a capital investment of about $505 million and hopes to break ground by January 2018 and start operating by the summer of 2020. Employees would receive an average salary of $53,000 plus benefits, the email said.

The company is seeking an undeveloped site within a current or future tax incremental financing district, the email said.

“A 700,000 SF building equates to 16 acres under one roof so you do the calculations on the proper site acreage in your community to accommodate storm water retention, setbacks, bike racks, ingress/egress and other zoning requirements for this size of building,” Michael Gay, senior vice president of MadREP, wrote in the email.

MadREP CEO Paul Jadin confirmed the group sent out a request for information and that it is for a “substantial project,” but declined to confirm it was Foxconn. He said the request generated several responses, but wouldn’t say how many.

Madison Mayor Paul Soglin could not be reached for comment Wednesday evening.

University Research Park ‘available’

Aaron Olver, managing director of University Research Park, did not comment directly about Foxconn but said the new University Research Park campus, at Junction Road and Highway M, could house a company looking to build. “University Research Park 2 is certainly available as a site for large technology companies,” Olver said.

Middleton city administrator Mike Davis said Middleton does not have a site large enough to accommodate the use being requested in the MadREP email.

Fitchburg Mayor Jason Gonzalez said Foxconn officials have toured sites in Fitchburg. He said he submitted three possible locations, but did not specify where they are.

“We have several (undeveloped) sites that are in our urban service area that are ready for development ... so we’re interested,” Gonzalez said.

He said he thinks the facility would make wearable devices that monitor vital signs, such as Apple Watches or Fitbits.

Zach Brandon, president of the Greater Madison Chamber of Commerce, also confirmed that Foxconn is considering this area.

“I know that they have an interest in Madison, that they’ve looked at our manufacturing abilities, our research and development capabilities, and they’ve had conversations around global challenges like cancer,” Brandon said.

News ‘a ways off’

Gov. Scott Walker was asked about the prospects for a Madison-area Foxconn operation after a Wednesday news conference at the Capitol with the South Korean ambassador to the United States.

“Any of the speculation — and I’d say right now it’s just speculation — about additional sites in the state is really driven by what the ambassador talked about: that people are taking notice of us.”

“We’re a ways off” from any further news about potential Foxconn expansion, Walker said.

Foxconn, a contract electronics manufacturer for companies including Apple and Amazon, announced on July 26 that it plans to build a massive factory in southeast Wisconsin that will make liquid crystal display panels. The company has said it will invest $10 billion for a 1,000-acre campus, including more than a dozen buildings, with a total 20 million square feet of space. Foxconn said it plans to hire 3,000 employees to start, with the potential of as many as 13,000 employees eventually.

President Donald Trump, citing an off-the-record remark by Foxconn chairman Terry Gou, said the company’s investment could swell to as much as $30 billion. His comment came during a White House news conference on Tuesday.

In March, Foxconn founder and CEO Terry Gou pledged his support for improved cancer research and precision medicine in East Asia, according to an article in the Taiwan News. He also announced a collaboration among Foxconn’s charity arm, Yonglin Foundation; NantWorks health care group in California; and the National Taiwan University last September aimed at pursuing immunotherapy to fight cancer, according to the Nikkei Asian Review.

Gou’s first wife and his younger brother died of cancer.

Brandon said he does not know yet if Gou is considering a joint venture with UW-Madison’s Carbone Cancer Center. Representatives of Foxconn’s medical group met with Dr. Howard Bailey, director of the Carbone Center, as well as other researchers there in recent visits to the Madison area.

“I can think of no better place in the world to make an investment than Madison if that’s what you want to accomplish,” said Brandon.

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Judy Newman is a business reporter for the Wisconsin State Journal.