Congratulations to Gov. Scott Walker and U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Janesville, for landing Foxconn, the Taiwanese electronics giant that’s promising a $10 billion plant and thousands of jobs in southeastern Wisconsin.
If Foxconn delivers on its elaborate plans, Wisconsin will benefit from a surge in construction, manufacturing and employment in Ryan’s 1st Congressional District, which includes Kenosha and Racine counties. That’s where the plant (or plants) would likely go.
Foxconn, which makes liquid display panels for computers, televisions and other devices, also has expressed an interest in UW-Madison research, which could further expand the company’s positive economic impact across the state.
This week’s announcement is exciting and welcome, given that several other states had hoped to land the technology manufacturer and its 20 million-square-foot campus on at least 1,000 acres.
But Wisconsin taxpayers still need convincing that the governor’s incentive package is worth its steep price. Gov. Walker wants the Legislature to approve some $3 billion in tax breaks and other incentives for Foxconn to locate here — by far the biggest government subsidy ever for a private company in the state.
The governor insisted Thursday that Foxconn wouldn’t get the $3 billion over 15 years unless it employed 13,000 people. Still, that’s about $231,000 in state subsidy per job.
We’re eager to listen in the coming weeks to the governor and other advocates sell the Foxconn agreement to the Legislature and to the public. And we hope the case is strong for moving forward.
Unfortunately, the governor’s Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. (WEDC), which oversees and enforces such deals, has a spotty track record on protecting public dollars. And some of Foxconn’s promises in the past have failed to materialize.
Economists also stress that the source of most job creation is small business. So would those $3 billion in government incentives be better spent on helping startups expand in a state that ranks low for business creation? And if the Foxconn agreement does go forward, what guarantees does the state have that it will follow through?
Those are the kinds of questions that need clear and detailed answers as the Legislature prepares to take up special legislation as soon as next month to approve the state subsidies.
We hope the state Legislature can find its way to supporting tax and other benefits for Foxconn that are justified. What state lawmakers, in the glow of this week’s splashy announcement, shouldn’t do is ignore their responsibility to ensure public dollars are protected and well spent.