Announced Foxconn Deal is Not a Plan for Sustained Economic Development in Wisconsin
Foxconn, the Taiwanese technology giant, maker of iPhones and components for other consumer electronics products, has pledged to build a 20-million-square-foot, 1,000 acre campus in southeastern Wisconsin to produce liquid-crystal displays (LCD’s). The project, if built, might bring from 3,000 to 13,000 jobs.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker has pledged $3 billion in incentives (including income tax credits and $150 million in sales tax exemptions for materials used to build the facility) to bring the company to the state. But there will be a huge “cost” to the state both in terms of drain on the state budget, burden on state taxpayers, and potential damage to the state’s air, land, and water.
Governor Walker has, according to a story in the Wisconsin State Journal (July 30, 2017), negotiated a benefit package for Foxconn that totals between $15,000 and $19,000 per job, per year. The Wisconsin State Journal quotes Timothy Bartik of the Upjohn Institute in Kalamazoo, Michigan as saying “the amount they’re paying per job is very, very high.” Bartik’s research shows that the “average state tax subsidy per job, per year, for large projects is about $2,500.
Beyond that, Governor Walker has pledged to let Foxconn bypass state environmental regulations, including the requirement to complete an Environmental Impact Statement. State lawmakers will begin considering a bill this week (week of August 1, 2017) that would: “allow the company to move or change the course of streams, build manmade bodies of water that connect with natural waterways and discharge materials in state wetlands without authorization from the state Department of Natural Resources. It exempts the company from being subject to an environmental impact statement.” (Wisconsin State Journal July 29, 2017)
The state legislature may decide either to go along with this package, or to add or subtract incentives, but the potential environmental damage of the proposed environmental rollback and give away is enormous.
Governor Walker’s idea seems to be to give away the store. He is proposing to give Foxconn total free rein to have its way with Wisconsin’s air, land, and water before legislators and the public have even had a chance to learn what Foxconn’s plans are, let alone have time to review and comment on them. The environmental, social/cultural, and economic costs of fouled air and water, lost open space and habitat, and hydrological alterations has not even been estimated yet.
There is little specific information about Foxconn’s plans so it is hard to evaluate the proposal. But, we know the site is intended for Racine or Kenosha Counties. Besides that we don’t know the specific parcels Foxconn is interested in, if the project land contains waterways, or sensitive environmental features, or how the project might impact them. These unknowns are what an environmental impact assessment and the resulting environmental impact statement are designed to discover and why it is such a bad idea to exempt the Foxconn project from going through the environmental impact discovery and assessment process.
The kinds of environmental alterations that Foxconn could make under Walker’s proposal (reversing the direction of streams, creating new water bodies, discharging into wetlands, and perhaps filling wetlands) are environmental assaults. As a practicing restoration ecologist, I know that the damage done cannot be mitigated against elsewhere or reversed through ecological restoration on-site.
The proposal would also set a dangerous precedent. What if Foxconn wants a second or third manufacturing site in Wisconsin? Would they get the same tax breaks and license to wreck the environment? What about other manufacturers? Would they get the same deal?
Walker’s Foxconn giveaway is just a deal; it is not an economic development plan. Nor is it a strategy to enhance Wisconsin’s heritage as an environmental leader and social and cultural haven. What Wisconsin needs is not a race to the bottom but a plan for sustained economic development that uplifts all Wisconsinites while honoring our history of respecting the environment, and protecting the state’s natural resources.
To give the Governor and Foxconn the benefit of the doubt, maybe they are considering utilizing one of the many empty former industrial sites in Wisconsin. Perhaps they plan to use the abandoned former GM plant in Janesville, Wisconsin or the recently-shuttered Oscar Meyer plant in Madison?
Urban infill like this would be good if it happens. But the Foxconn deal, as it now stands, does not respect or enhance Wisconsin’s status as a great place to live. Yes, the state could benefit from many more well-paying and meaningful jobs; especially since Governor Walker has failed to come through on his promise to create 250,000 jobs in his first term. Now nearing the end of his second term (and thinking about running for a third) he is many tens of thousands of jobs short of that goal.
We in Wisconsin has so many good things going for us that we do not have to bow down to the commercial powers and give away all that we hold dear.
We can do better.