Fact checking Foxconn

The Taiwanese company is perhaps best known for making iPhones.
The Taiwanese company is perhaps best known for making iPhones.

Negative zero wind chill winds are not the only icy blasts buffeting the Badger State.

Foxconn Technology Group brought its own big chill on Jan. 30, 2019, with a news report saying the Taiwan tech giant is reconsidering plans to make advanced liquid crystal display panels at its Racine County campus.

Foxconn "said it intends to hire mostly engineers and researchers rather than the manufacturing workforce the project originally promised," a Reuters report said, based on an interview with Louis Woo, special assistant to Foxconn Chief Executive Terry Gou.

Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said in a statement that Foxconn has "overpromised and under-delivered."

"This news is devastating for the taxpayers of Wisconsin. We were promised manufacturing jobs. We were promised state of the art LCD production. We were promised a game-changing economic opportunity for our state. And now, it appears Foxconn is living up to their failed track record in the U.S. -- leaving another state and community high and dry."

To be sure, Foxconn has not said it is abandoning Wisconsin or the facility where it has already invested more than $200 million and employed 178 people as of Dec. 31, 2018. Rather, it is indicating it may use it for something different than the top-line production facility that was originally pitched.

Tom Still, president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, told the Associated Press he’s not surprised that Foxconn wants to change course, since televisions are becoming less expensive and iPhone sales are declining.

Still, who supports the project, noted the company has already invested as much as $200 million in Wisconsin, and he’s not worried that the company might pull out.

"I do think that it’s likely that they’ll adjust to what the market conditions are," Still said.

State GOP leaders blamed Democratic Gov. Tony Evers, who took office Jan. 7, 2019, for the change in plans.

"We don’t blame Foxconn for altering plans in an ever-changing technology business. It’s also not surprising Foxconn would rethink building a manufacturing plant in Wisconsin under the Evers Administration," Assembly Speaker Robin Vos and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said in a joint statement about the company's plans.

PolitiFact Wisconsin has regularly fact-checked statements about the project. Here is a look at some of them:

Oct. 12, 2018 -- Rapper-producer Kanye West said Foxconn has "4,000 jobs, people making $53,000 a year" in Wisconsin.

Our rating: Half True

West, visiting President Donald Trump at the White House in October 2018, made that statement about the massive high-tech electronics factory under construction in southern Wisconsin. Foxconn has said the plant will initially employ 3,000 people, and eventually 13,000, at an average wage of nearly $54,000 per year. But both figures are plans, albeit connected to a contract Foxconn has signed with the State of Wisconsin.

July 11, 2018: Democratic gubernatorial candidate Matt Flynn said "Foxconn will not face oversight from any federal, state, or local agency to guarantee it complies with our wetlands protection laws."   

Our rating: Mostly False

Flynn made that claim in a June 13, 2018 news release during the campaign.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers announced that "it has no jurisdiction," but the state Department of Natural Resources said "Foxconn is subject to federal wetland permitting requirements and must properly mitigate any impact on wetlands." Indeed, Foxconn is required to mitigate wetlands at a higher ratio than other companies in the state. The bottomline: While some environmental oversight was removed, Flynn’s claim went beyond that to say there would be no oversight related to wetlands.

Aug. 15, 2017 -- One Wisconsin Now says Wisconsin's $3 billion incentive offer to Foxconn is "the largest gift ever by a state to a foreign company."

Our rating: Half True.

The $3 billion wouldn’t be given -- it would be paid, in increments, based on how much Foxconn spends on capital investments and payroll.

But the only compilation of government subsidies we found shows that the Foxconn offer would exceed the highest subsidy provided to a foreign company -- $1.65 billion in 2012, made by Pennsylvania to Dutch Royal Shell, based in The Netherlands.

Aug. 11, 2017 -- State Rep. Melissa Sargent, D-Madison, says that on the Foxconn deal, "3,000 jobs cost #WI taxpayers more than $3 billion in tax giveaways. Break it down: more than $1 million in taxpayer dollars per job."

Our rating: False.

The per-job cost could never reach $1 million if only 3,000 jobs are created; the full $3 billion would be paid only if 13,000 jobs are created.

Aug. 2, 2017 -- One Wisconsin Now says Walker "wants state taxpayers to dole out up to $250 million annually in incentives" to Foxconn "to lure a manufacturing plant to Wisconsin that he claims will generate $181 million in tax revenue."

Our rating: Half True.

Walker did want to offer $200 million to $250 million per year over 15 years in incentives in order to get Foxconn to put its plant in Wisconsin, and the estimate at the time was the project would produce $181 million per year in tax revenue.

But what was left out of the statement was that Walker and others pursued the deal in large part because the massive development is expected to generate other new businesses, new housing and other economic activity that will, in turn, produce even more tax revenue.