Right off of Highway H in the village of Mount Pleasant, a new 100-foot-tall globe of glass and steel rises out of the surrounding fields. It’s part of the small but growing Foxconn compound amidst otherwise empty land and rows of power lines. Down the road are some silos next to an old, deteriorated red barn. The globe looks like something from a sci-fi movie, though a bit more disco-age than futuristic.
It’s a far cry from what then President Donald Trump declared would be “the eighth wonder of the world” at Foxconn’s groundbreaking ceremony in 2018. Gov. Scott Walker touted 13,000 new jobs when he helped negotiate the deal, all located at what was supposed to be a manufacturing plant for high-tech LCD screens just outside of Racine in a new “Wisconn Valley Science & Technology Park” of enterprise.
But what is this giant orb? And what future buildings might orbit around it? The answer to the former is that the structure is called the High Performance Computing Data Center Globe, which will be home to a “network operation center.” This is where “Foxconn engineers, IT professionals and computer scientists will be able to manage, control and direct the awesome amount of high-performance computing power stored in nearby modular clusters known as FoxMOD,” according to a 2020 review document recently provided to employees and shareholders of Foxconn. The center will help manage technologies such as 5G and industrial artificial intelligence.
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Beneath the Globe is a 500-foot-deep network of 64 geothermal wells. “This system can distribute cool air throughout the facility,” according to Foxconn’s document. “Heat generated from servers are recycled during cold Wisconsin winters.” The document also notes that “like-minded companies” who choose to “locate to the Park” will be able to tap into the Globe’s computing services.
But how much of a Foxconn facility will there be to heat or cool? And what other companies want to move to the mostly empty fields surrounding the Globe, which right now seem to be symbolic of the lack of fulfilled promises by Foxconn?
The goal to employ 2,080 people by the end of 2019 fell far short, with a payroll of less than 300.
After the Foxconn deal was struck, Racine County and Mount Pleasant began investing in land acquisition and new infrastructure for the development. They bought up 132 properties and uprooted homeowners with relocation orders, sometimes threatening eminent domain by saying the properties were needed for road improvement. The homes were bulldozed.
The state offered Foxconn huge tax incentives worth up to $3 billion if the Taiwanese company lived up to its promises: $10 billion in investment at the Mount Pleasant site and creation of 13,000 jobs at its facilities there by 2023.
But by 2020 only $550 million had been invested in Mount Pleasant, and a goal to employ 2,080 people by the end of 2019 fell far short, with a payroll of less than 300. A massive building billed as a 20-million-square-foot manufacturing facility ended up being one-twentieth of that, and its intended use changed to storage. Counting the new Globe, Foxconn has built only four buildings here. Six other buildings around the state bought to be “innovation centers” have mostly sat empty.
The Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. announced last October that Foxconn failed to meet its 2019 goals and it would not be receiving any subsidies. “Without a Generation 10.5 TFT-LCD Fabrication Facility, there is no justification, or consideration, for the enormous tax credit incentives or expense to Wisconsin taxpayers,” WEDC said in a letter to Foxconn, while adding that it remained open to amending the contract. Foxconn’s report on its 2020 activity is due to WEDC this month.
A glimmer of hope emerged in February with announcement of a Foxconn deal with startup automaker Fisker to build as many as 250,000 electric cars a year starting in 2023. At press time, Mount Pleasant’s Foxconn campus seemed a strong but unconfirmed possibility for that work.
Someday the Globe might be the center of something other than empty fields. But it looks like it has a long way to go.
Better than Nothing?
THOUGH FOXCONN HASN’T YET delivered what was promised three years ago, there has been some development. Here are the highlights of that activity, as of Jan. 13, 2021, according to a new report from the company:
Spent $850 million “inclusive of capital expenditures, salaries and other expenses” in Wisconsin.
3,200 “jobs related to the park have been filled,” with 90% of the jobs “representing Wisconsin counties.” However, these jobs are mostly attributed to construction companies that have worked to develop the site, not Foxconn employees.
Four facilities have been built or are currently under construction. These include the 1 million-square-foot Advanced Manufacturing Facility, although Foxconn received a permit to convert its use from manufacturing to storage, and the 120,000-square-foot Multipurpose Building. The new Globe data center and 300,000-square-foot Smart Manufacturing Center are both supposed to be completed this year, according to Foxconn.
As the pandemic hit, Foxconn says it assembled 13 million procedural masks in Wisconsin, including 100,000 donated to the state of Wisconsin.
Foxconn’s projected tax payments for 2020 are $5 million, making it Racine County’s largest taxpayer, according to Claude Lois, Foxconn project director for Mount Pleasant.