Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Foxconn’s Empty Buildings, Empty Factories, and Empty Promises in Wisconsin

Josh Dzieza of the Verge has an update on Foxconn’s fake LCD factory in Wisconsin:

In many ways, the Foxconn debacle in Wisconsin is the physical manifestation of the alternate reality that has defined the Trump administration. Trump promised to bring back manufacturing, found a billionaire eager to play along, and now for three years the people of Wisconsin have been told to expect an LCD factory that plainly is not there. Into the gap between appearance and reality fell people’s jobs, homes, and livelihoods.

The buildings Foxconn has erected are largely empty. The sphere has no clear purpose. The innovation centers are still vacant. The heart of the project, the million-square-foot “Fab,” is just a shell. In what an employee says was a final cost-cutting measure, only the portion that was to host the Trump visit was ever finished. Recent documents show the “Fab,” once intended for use as manufacturing, has been reclassified as a massive storage facility.

WEDC, as part of its audit of the company’s 2019 subsidy application, had Foxconn survey its employees about what they were working on. Not a single respondent mentioned LCDs because no one is working on LCDs, and they never were.

Every time I think about this story, I remember the episode of “Reply All” from a couple of years ago about the town relationships fractured by the fight over this factory. Its construction is a profoundly selfish and cynical landmark, and it is heartbreaking to think about all of the people who were forced out of their homes to construct it.

That podcast episode spends a fair bit of time covering Dave DeGroot, village president of Mount Pleasant, as he secretly fights to land the Foxconn factory. Dzieza’s article doesn’t mention DeGroot, but I found an article from last month in the Racine Journal Times by Eric Johnson claiming that local officials were “pleased” with Foxconn’s efforts:

“It continues to roll along at its own pace,” Mount Pleasant Village President David DeGroot said of the Foxconn development. “It’s been an interesting ride. Their focus changed somewhat along the way, but I’m thrilled and filled with anticipation at the breadth and depth of the product that they’re going to be producing in Mount Pleasant. We’ve come a long ways from the initial focus on just large screen video monitors. They’ve got their fingers in every market segment that’s out there and we’ll see the fruits of that as time goes on.”

[…]

“It (Foxconn) will continue to have a ripple effect, not only in Mount Pleasant, but really throughout southeastern Wisconsin,” [DeGroot] said. “We are going to become known as a technology hub.”

This article mentions that part of the factory was apparently retooled to make masks and other pandemic-related goods, something which Dzieza’s piece does not mention. However, though DeGroot is putting an optimistic spin on the situation his village is now in, it is difficult to reconcile that pride with Foxconn’s 90% shortfall in capital investment compared to its targets.