The president last week dazzled Wisconsin and its leaders with the possibility of tens of thousands of jobs coming here soon.
That truly would be great.
Foxconn, a Taiwanese manufacturer of Apple’s iPhones and other digital parts and devices, plans to invest $7 billion in an American factory, with an announcement of a location as early as next month.
Wisconsin, Michigan and other states are reportedly in the running, with President Donald Trump saying last week he and Gov. Scott Walker were negotiating to bring a “major, incredible manufacturer” here.
“I think they’re going to give the governor a very happy surprise very soon,” Trump said during a visit to Waukesha County Technical College.
Given the president’s penchant for boastful wishful thinking, state leaders can’t count on thousands of Foxconn jobs coming through. Yet Wisconsin seems well positioned to attract such a company, given its manufacturing base, generous tax breaks, growing technology sector and strong technical and higher education systems.
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. (WEDC) should be doing all it can to sell Wisconsin as the perfect place for Foxconn’s ambitious venture.
That said, Wisconsin’s business and political leaders shouldn’t lose sight of how most jobs are created — by small business. Announcing the arrival of a huge employer makes for great headlines and easier re-election campaigns. Yet small businesses account for two-thirds of new jobs. And Wisconsin needs to do a better job of helping homegrown entrepreneurs find investors and global markets for their innovative ideas.
Wisconsin notoriously ranks last in the nation for business startup activity, according to the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation. Too often, state leaders shower attention and favors on large, traditional employers, while largely ignoring the needs of startup companies, which have the most potential for job growth.
Landing Foxconn would be a huge victory for Wisconsin workers. But WEDC also must respect taxpayers as it offers Foxconn financial incentives.
When Kraft Heinz announced it was closing its aging Oscar Mayer plant in Madison two years ago, it simultaneously negotiated the construction of a new facility in Iowa — but at a steep price. Iowa’s state and local governments offered more than $20 million in incentives, which was $43,700 per job preserved, not even created.
The Des Moines Register appropriately called the deal “a load of baloney.”
Wisconsin should primarily sell itself to Foxconn for what the state already provides: virtually no state income tax for manufacturers, a strong workforce, and a superb education system.
We hope Trump’s prediction of a “very happy surprise” comes true.