A $10 billion investment, a 22 million-square-foot facility, thousands of new jobs promised. It’s easy to see how the scale and size of the Foxconn development boggles the mind and begs questions.
More than 100 people attended the Executive Breakfast Forum, Navigating the Regional Impact of Foxconn in late August to get some answers from a panel of experts. The event examined how the massive development will impact the region and what it means for economic development, talent attraction and retention efforts, workforce training and existing businesses.
Panelist Barb LaMue, vice president of economic and community development for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., updated attendees on the latest Foxconn developments. Though the project is still in the early phases of construction, 136 companies — including 16 in the New North — have already gotten contracts.
Around 800 non-Foxconn employees representing 60 out of 72 counties are working on the site already, she said. One-third of the site preparation is already complete, with 2 million cubic yards of dirt cleared and 5 million to go.
LaMue shared resources interested companies can access to stay up-to-date with the project and learn of opportunities. Those include the Wisconn Valley News, which puts out a biweekly newsletter, the website of the project’s prime contractor, Gilbane Building Co., and the Supply Chain Marketplace, or SCM (see information box).
“We want to make sure that it is a Wisconsin project, not just a southeastern Wisconsin project, so we’ll continue to pipe information to all of you, so you can get connected,” LaMue says.
Jerry Murphy, executive director of New North Inc., who participated in the panel, stressed the importance of the SCM, an online tool that originated in the New North and has since become a statewide directory. Within days of the original announcement, the SCM was updated to include a Foxconn section.
The tool, which underwent a major improvement shortly before Foxconn shared its plan, provides a way for companies to introduce themselves, share their capabilities and organize themselves for future opportunities, he says. The SCM has grown from a couple hundred entries to include more than 1,800 now, with it expected to hit the 2,000 mark by the end of the year.
While the directory provides a powerful resource, companies shouldn’t stop at including their information in it, Murphy says. He encourages businesses to take advantage of programs and tools available to help them understand what’s required of them to be considered for work.
“The directory doesn’t make it so. Just being in the directory is very passive,” he says. “If Foxconn, in this case, identifies you as a potential vendor, you still have to be able to rise to the standards the company is going to place on any supplier.”
Right now, Foxconn is seeking plastic injecting molding and stamping companies, LaMue says. Companies that have those capabilities should get into the SCM and list themselves as potential bidders.
The WEDC, in collaboration with Wisconsin Manufacturers & Commerce, Wisconsin Center for Manufacturing & Productivity, Wisconsin Manufacturing Extension Partnership, and the state’s regional economic development organizations, will present a Supplier Readiness Series, which will provide small- to medium-size manufacturers with details on how to become part of the supply chain for the Foxconn Technology Group as well as other major companies.
A session will be held Tuesday, Sept. 25 at Northeast Wisconsin Technical College (Room SC130), 2740 W. Mason St., Green Bay. Registration will take place from 1 to 1:30 p.m.; the session will take place from 1:30 to 4:30 p.m. In addition, the WEDC is working to create a supply chain readiness scorecard, a series of evaluations companies can go through to assess their preparedness.Murphy says Foxconn chose Green Bay and Eau Claire for technology innovation centers because it believed they could populate its facilities with a higher skill set. He speculates the move could beef up Northeast Wisconsin’s tech reputation and help the region attract talent.
“We clearly know, with the technology center that’s going in the Watermark building and with T2 and with TitletownTech, we’re really positioning Northeast Wisconsin to be this technology hub of innovation,” LaMue adds.
With the development and an anticipated 13,000 new jobs comes a need for talent of all kinds — and perhaps concerns among employers about appropriation of existing talent. Panelist Jim Golembeski, executive director of the Bay Area Workforce Development Board, expressed concern about a confluence of circumstances facing the workforce, including baby boomer retirements, some millennials whose skills don’t necessarily match the available jobs, and a smaller-in-numbers generation coming behind them.
At the same time, however, Golembeski praised the quality of the regional universities and technical colleges and their willingness to collaborate as well as the work of groups such as the NEW Manufacturing Alliance.
“One of the best things we have going in Northeast Wisconsin is, we really have a coordinated post-secondary training group,” he says. “It’s a very exciting time just to see the pieces begin to assemble here.”
NEWMA Director Ann Franz, the event’s fourth panelist, emphasized the importance of continued collaboration between businesses and K-12 education. She also noted the ability of higher education to respond to talent needs. When NEWMA launched, there were no four-year engineering programs in the region. Now the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay has added an engineering technology bachelor’s degree, and work is underway on the school’s STEM Innovation Center.
Thanks to our sponsors
The Executive Breakfast Forum was sponsored by Davis & Kuelthau, BMO Harris Bank and Wipfli CPAs and Consultants.
On the Web
To stay up-to-date on the latest Foxconn news and opportunities, visit:
Wisconn Valley News: wisconnvalley.wi.gov
Supply Chain Marketplace: wisupplychainmarketplace.com