With an aggressive timeline to turn dirt before next fall's election, Gov. Scott Walker took to the air Friday to tout global electronics giant Foxconn's plans to invest $10 billion on a new manufacturing facility in southeast Wisconsin.
The campaign-style airplane tour took Walker far from where the factory three times the size of the Pentagon is to be located to make the case that the entire state would benefit from a plant that could employ 13,000 people.
The plant would be the first outside of Asia to produce liquid crystal display monitors used in computers, televisions and other areas. Walker calls it a once-a-generation opportunity to transform Wisconsin's economy.
The envisioned factory, expected to open in 2020, would be 20 million square feet on a campus that spans 1.56-square-miles in what Walker is calling the "Wisconn Valley." It would initially employ 3,000 people, but the deal calls for that to grow to 13,000 within six years.
An exact location has not been determined, but Foxconn is looking at sights in Racine and Kenosha counties.
Walker argued in Appleton, about 130 miles from where the plant would be, that people are going to be needed from across the state to help build the facility and then be suppliers for materials needed to construct the display panels. He also said technical colleges and schools in the University of Wisconsin System statewide will have to start preparing potential workers for the high-tech jobs to be offered at Foxconn.
Walker's tour also took him to La Crosse, Eau Claire and Wausau.
The deal Walker signed Thursday with Foxconn CEO Terry Gou calls for a final agreement — including the Legislature's passage of a $3 billion tax incentive package — to be done by Sept. 30. Walker said he will call the GOP-controlled Legislature into a special session in August to pass the bill, which has yet to be introduced.
"That's somewhat aggressive for a project that big," said lobbyist Bill McCoshen, who helped negotiate economic development deals in Gov. Tommy Thompson's administration. The deep bipartisan support will help ease its passage, McCoshen said.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin attended President Donald Trump's White House announcement of the deal on Wednesday and two-time Walker challenger Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett praised it at a signing event on Thursday. Other Democratic lawmakers have spoken in support.
Because Wisconsin already waives all taxes on manufacturing credits in the state, the incentives for Foxconn would be paid as cash up to $200 million a year rather than a credit against taxes owed. They would be pro-rated based on job creation and money spent by Foxconn and could be recouped if jobs are lost.
"Gov. Walker has to some explaining to do to taxpayers in every corner of the state who will foot the bill for this deal on the Illinois border," said Scot Ross, director of the liberal activist group One Wisconsin Now.
University of Wisconsin-Madison agricultural economist Steve Deller said Friday that based on what he knows of the deal, the state structured it in the most responsible way possible.
"It seems as though, if you're going to do this, this is the way to go about it," he said.
One of the harshest critics within the Legislature is Democratic state Sen. Dave Hansen, who represents Green Bay. He said moving quickly on the $3 billion incentive package would be "a serious case of legislative malpractice."
Hansen expressed concerns that Foxconn would replace jobs at the plant with robots, as it has done at other facilities.
"Before the governor and legislators mortgage the future of Wisconsin taxpayers, possibly for decades, they should think very carefully about the long-term needs of the state rather than their own re-election," Hansen said.
A group of four Republican lawmakers from northeast Wisconsin pushed back against Hansen's claims on Friday, calling it "beyond appalling" and "insane."
"One need look no further than the shipyards and foundries in Marinette or the paper manufacturers scattered throughout the area to see that our area's economy thrives on manufacturing," said state Rep. John Nygren, co-chair of the Legislature's budget committee.
Rep. David Steffen, of Green Bay, said there will be countless economic benefits across the state. Walker's administration has estimated that there will be 22,000 other new jobs in construction and other associated fields thanks to the project.
"To think that someone would actively cheer against this type of economic growth is insane," Steffen said.