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Electronics-Maker Foxconn Plans Wisconsin Factory


A huge new factory is coming to Wisconsin. That's something President Trump might have said when he announced that the world's largest electronics manufacturer, Taiwan-based Foxconn, is going to build a new factory in southeastern Wisconsin. They plan to make LCD flat-panel displays.


DONALD TRUMP: When this investment is complete, Foxconn has the potential to create more manufacturing jobs than we've seen in many, many decades.

MARTIN: Foxconn is probably best known as the manufacturer of Apple's iPhones. The investment will be worth $10 billion, and the president says it could create at least 3,000 jobs. But the company has been criticized for its poor working conditions overseas, and the deal will require billions of dollars in tax incentives. To put all this in context, we're joined in the studio by Todd Frankel, a reporter with The Washington Post who's been covering this. Todd, thanks for coming in.

TODD FRANKEL: Thank you.

MARTIN: What's the likelihood that this project actually goes through?

FRANKEL: Probably pretty good. As you saw yesterday, they had the governor out there and the president. And there's a lot of heavyweights who are behind this now. But Foxconn does have a track record, even at this point, of sort of either scaling back or not proceeding with the project at all. So there are still some unanswered questions.

MARTIN: Because they've tried to do this, or they have made similar promises in places before, and it never actually materializes?

FRANKEL: Yeah, in 2013, in Harrisburg, Pa., they sort of announced that they were going to invest $30 million and 500 jobs - a smaller scale of what was announced yesterday. And there was all these banner headlines, and the governor of Pennsylvania, you know, was touting it. And everyone was sort of writing these stories that it was the sign of America's manufacturing renaissance. And couple months later, it just disappeared - dropped off the radar. Interestingly though, there was no follow up. I mean, we sort of pay attention to these announcements and sort of assume that it's a done deal. And Pennsylvania's Economic Development Authority was even still talking about this project as if it were still had happened, even as recently as last December.

MARTIN: And in terms of the number of jobs - if this thing goes through - how many jobs it could actually create, there seems to be a discrepancy. The president spoke of at least 3,000 jobs but as many as 13,000 jobs.

FRANKEL: Yeah, I mean, you know, what the problem is that we're sort of starting out, and there's a lot of factors that could happen along the way. You know, this is a great negotiating tactic for Foxconn in terms of, you know, they've got people on board. They really want these things to happen. And they can extract a lot of concessions out of the governments and local leaders at this point because everyone wants those jobs.

And so when it comes - push comes to shove, there's all these other factors that they can't control - the business climate, you know, investment climate and all these different things. So it's going to be very difficult to say exactly how many jobs there are going to be in the end.

MARTIN: We should also note, Foxconn has a kind of - a rather grim history when it comes to working conditions.

FRANKEL: Yeah, in China, they've gotten tagged for a lot of problems there. Although, I will say they do have two factories here in the U.S. - one in Indiana and one in Texas. And there have not been, you know, allegations of worker abuse there, and certainly not on the level we saw in China.

MARTIN: So this is only happening because there are a lot of incentives at work here. Does this make this a pricey trade-off for these jobs?

FRANKEL: Yeah, there's going to be a lot - quite a big fight, I think, in Wisconsin when you're talking about 1 billion to $3 billion in incentives to get a $7 billion investment. And by far, it's not a done deal. I mean, there's a lot that has to happen. I mean, they haven't signed anything. I think today they're supposed to sign a memorandum of understanding, which is one step. But they have to put the land together. They have to - you know, all these different things have to happen. It's a long way off. And it's interesting, though, that we discuss it - it's announced as if it's done. It's going to happen. There's no doubt. I think there's a lot of doubt still out there.

MARTIN: Todd Frankel of The Washington Post, thanks so much.

FRANKEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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