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Evers: Foxconn wanted changes to deal

MADISON

A top official with Taiwanese tech giant Foxconn Technology Group told Gov. Tony Evers and legislative leaders in March that the company wanted changes to the $3 billion contract with the state, the governor said Tuesday.

In a Tuesday letter to Louis Woo, special assistant to Foxconn chairman and CEO Terry Gou, Evers for the first time acknowledged that it is Foxconn that is seeking to modify the state’s contract and not Evers.

The letter also seeks to push back against criticism from Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald and Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, who said it was Evers who wanted changes and was “undermining” the deal.

“At that (March) meeting, you indicated that Foxconn intends to suggest several changes to the existing agreement to better align the terms with the evolving project and global marketplace,” Evers wrote to Woo. “To my knowledge, this was the first time either Foxconn or the State of Wisconsin had mentioned amending or changing the agreement approved in 2017.”

Woo in March also told Fitzgerald and Vos of the company’s plans to seek changes, the Democratic governor wrote—but Fitzgerald disputed Evers’ account, saying he had not talked to Woo about possibly reopening the agreement.

“I met with Louis Woo for thirty minutes and there was no discussion about opening up the contract for renegotiation, just general discussion about Foxconn’s expansion and growth,” Fitzgerald said in a statement.

Vos spokeswoman Kit Beyer said Vos told Woo in March he was willing to “provide flexibility” to Foxconn as it seeks to create jobs in Wisconsin.

“If Evers wants to change (the Foxconn agreement), the taxpayer protections need to remain,” Vos said in a statement.

“In his recent comments, Governor Evers seems to be playing to his liberal base and caring more about scoring political points than ensuring the success of the largest economic development project in state history.”

Republicans have praised the deal because it is performance based. The company must create a set number of jobs and spend at least $9 billion in capital investments to claim all subsidies.

In a statement responding to Evers’ letter, Foxconn officials said the company has “never wavered from our commitment to our contract with the State of Wisconsin and the creation of 13,000 jobs as part of our broader effort to make the Badger state a global technology hub.”

The company said officials have engaged in “both routine engagement and good faith discussions with the Evers Administration regarding areas of flexibility within the existing agreement to ensure the company and our workforce will be positioned for long-term success.”

But Foxconn officials also suggested they were not seeking to make changes to the contract’s expectations in hiring and capital investment.

“Throughout these discussions, we have both operated within the existing contract framework and maintained our long-term workforce, salary, and investment commitments,” the company said in a statement late Tuesday.

Evers came under Republican fire when he told reporters last week he didn’t expect Foxconn to bring the 13,000 jobs to Wisconsin as it builds its first U.S. manufacturing facility—a hiring goal the company promised when former Gov. Scott Walker brokered a deal in 2017 that could provide up to $4 billion in state and local subsidies.

Evers said the project wouldn’t generate as many jobs as initially expected and that the contract should be renegotiated.

Vos has criticized Evers in recent days for talking about renegotiating the Foxconn deal but hadn’t described his talks with Woo.

In a weekend email to his constituents, Vos wrote that he has long been concerned Evers “would try to undermine the state’s contract with Foxconn Technology Group.” He wrote that after hearing Evers’ comments last week he believed Evers was “rooting for the failure” of the project. But he added in that email that some unspecified changes to the contract might be acceptable.

“As Foxconn moves forward on its plans in our state, I’m open to hearing if any flexibility is needed regarding the project, which I hope is the intent of Governor Evers,” Vos wrote.

Like Vos, Fitzgerald has pilloried Evers for wanting to make changes to the Foxconn contract without mentioning his talks with Woo.

Last week, Fitzgerald accused Evers of seeking “a one-sided attempt to reopen the contract.” He did not say why he viewed the move as one-sided in light of Evers’ claim that Foxconn is the party seeking changes.

Evers released the letter just hours after Mark Hogan, the head of Wisconsin’s economic development agency, touted the existing deal with Foxconn and said he would kept Vos, Fitzgerald and others in the loop about recent developments with the project.

Vos and Fitzgerald said they had talked to Hogan but didn’t say whether Hogan had kept them up to date about renegotiating the contract.

“Whether it’s the governor’s office, legislative leaders, our board of directors, I keep people informed of what’s going on,” Hogan told reporters.

Despite Evers’ recent comments, Hogan held out the possibility the company would create 13,000 jobs in Wisconsin, as it has repeatedly claimed.

“I think they’ve continued to make that commitment,” Hogan said.

Hogan helped put together the Foxconn deal under Walker.

Analiese Eicher, executive director of the liberal group One Wisconsin Now, said Tuesday’s disclosure made Republican lawmakers look bad.

“Foxconn has a well-documented history of not keeping their promises, but it appears that Rep. Vos and Sen. Fitzgerald are the least trustworthy ones in this negotiation,” she said in a statement.

Once hailed as “transformational” by Walker and other advocates, and touted by President Donald Trump as the “eighth wonder of the world,” the Foxconn project has been drawing increasing skepticism for the last year as the company shifted its plans.

First came a sharp change in the proportion of factory workers to engineers. Then Foxconn gradually acknowledged that it would not build the massive “Gen 10.5” flat-screen plant specified in its contracts with state and local governments but rather would construct a smaller, less costly “Gen 6” facility.

“It is my understanding that Foxconn will be submitting the necessary documentation for proposing changes to the WEDC agreement in the coming weeks,” Evers wrote in Tuesday’s letter. “As we have discussed with Foxconn representatives, the State is identifying areas we believe will enable greater flexibility and transparency as the project continues to evolve.”

A spokeswoman for Foxconn was not immediately available to confirm Evers’ characterization of the March meeting with Woo.

Foxconn also has contracts with the village of Mount Pleasant and Racine County, an agreement that provides some $764 million in local incentives for the company.

The agreement also guarantees the planned factory campus will contain at least $1.4 billion in taxable value by 2023.

That alone will generate enough money to pay off the village and county expenses related to the project, local officials say.

Foxconn officials have not reached out to Racine County or Mount Pleasant officials to renegotiate the agreement, according to Mount Pleasant Village President Dave DeGroot and M.T. Boyle, chief of staff for Racine County executive Jonathan Delagrave.


Scott Bauer 

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers says he thinks it's "unrealistic" for Foxconn Technology Group to employ 13,000 people in the state and he wants to renegotiate the contract during a news conference Wednesday, April 17, 2019, in Madison, Wisconsin. Evers told reporters that the state was working with Taiwan-based Foxconn to look at revising the original contract for the proposed facility to build liquid crystal display panels because it "deals with a situation that no longer exists." (AP Photo/Scott Bauer)


Local
top story
Renovations get underway at Hedberg Public Library

JANESVILLE

The opaque white tarp is visible before you reach the skylight on Hedberg Public Library’s second floor.

It covers the entire southwest corner of the library, restricting views of the adjacent Rock River and limiting public access on this main level.

The tarp is an early sign of renovations that will modernize Hedberg—work the library has alluded to for months with the slogan “Transform your library.”

About four years ago, Hedberg officials began discussing the need to replace carpets, upgrade lighting and fix the roof, which was finished last year.

Then Hedberg decided to expand the project after board members noticed efforts at other libraries to remodel their buildings for 21st-century needs, library Director Bryan McCormick said.

What do 21st-century libraries look like?

They don’t fit the old stereotype where everyone is silently reading. They instead emphasize flexible spaces where people can work together, McCormick said.

These collaborative areas might have movable furniture, even movable bookshelves, so they can be used for programs, meetings, group work and any other needs that might arise on a given day, he said.

The corner of the library hidden beneath the tarp is practically empty now. All the shelves have been taken elsewhere, and all the carpet has been ripped out.

In addition to some flexible spaces, this area will be the new home of a bigger teen center. When the bookshelves are put back in place, they will be perpendicular to the west windows to enhance the view of the river, Assistant Director Charles Teval said.

After that phase finishes—perhaps by mid-May—crews will redo the existing teen center and media area. Then they will move to the northwest corner and later to the second floor’s entrance, he said.

The checkout desk inside the entrance will be removed, allowing the main program room to expand. Smaller additional help desks will be interspersed throughout the library so that staff is always nearby, he said.

The northwest corner will add a larger section devoted to genealogy. Teval believes it’s a great way to capitalize on renewed attention to family heritages sparked by the success of Ancestry.com and similar websites.

The four-phase, $2.8 million project is expected to finish in mid-October.

The library is about $250,000 shy of its fundraising goal. The city is contributing $1 million, and Hedberg is funding the rest through donations and its own money, he said.

Teval said many visitors have been receptive to the changes and willing to endure the temporary inconveniences.

There are fewer work areas for now. Most bookshelves have been jammed tightly together and corded off from the public, requiring staff to fetch requested materials.

“Unfortunately, it isn’t conducive to browsing,” Teval said. “I had a guy who wanted some Westerns, so we just had him name a couple authors he was interested in, grabbed a handful, brought them out.”

Last week, Hedberg introduced new hours to accommodate construction. The library is now closed every morning with the exception of Saturdays.

Reduced hours and ongoing repairs haven’t dampened visitors’ enthusiasm for wanting to use Hedberg. As the doors opened at noon Tuesday, a crowd that had been waiting outside flooded upstairs into the construction zone, undaunted by the large white tarp.


Obituaries and death notices for April 24, 2019

Fred H.P. Behling

Larry E. Bobsin

Michael N. Gaglione

Sandra Lou Jones

Leonard (Tony) Krauss Jr.

Virginia “Ginny” Finnane Lee

Delaine A. Miller

Patricia Ann Miller

Beverly Ann Wilson


Angela Major 

A worker uses a shovel to clear off part of Highway 51 in Janesville on Tuesday.


Government
Janesville to host national college aviation competition in May

JANESVILLE

About 600 people are expected to swoop into Janesville next month for a national intercollegiate flight competition hosted by UW-Madison at the Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport.

Thirty colleges from across the country will bring more than 100 small aircraft to the Safety and Flight Evaluation Competition, or SAFECON, from May 13 to 18.

The event marks the first time UW-Madison has hosted the annual flight competition.

Andrew Ross, chief judge of the competition, said members of the National Intercollegiate Flying Association chose UW-Madison to host this year’s event over Ohio State University and Indiana State University.

Ross said Janesville’s airport is “perfectly situated” for the contest.

He said 300 to 350 competitors will operate mostly two-and four-seater aircraft. Aviators primarily will spend their time at the Janesville airport during the week, but they will have written tests and closing ceremonies in Madison.

All flights will take place in Janesville. Ross said the Dane County Regional Airport was not ideal because of its frequent commercial flights.

Among the competitions will be navigation planning tests, a message-dropping event and two landing events, such as a power-off test in which pilots glide onto the runway, Ross said.

A team of about 75 judges—including working airline pilots—will crown the national champion school. Ross said many of the aviators eventually will become commercial, corporate or cargo pilots or join the military.

“The cool thing is, during competition, you can walk the tarmac and you can see all these schools represented from their paint jobs and emblems. ... It’s really kind of a big meeting of all of these schools,” Ross said.

Each team advanced from a regional competition. Among the universities competing are UW-Madison, Auburn, Ohio State, Kansas State, Kent State, Minnesota State, Oklahoma State, Southern Illinois, Western Michigan, Purdue, United States Air Force Academy and United States Naval Academy.

The Janesville Area Convention and Visitors Bureau has given the airport a $7,000 grant through the state Department of Tourism for facility improvements, such as low-profile barricades for additional aircraft tie-down points. The Rock County Board will vote to accept the grant Thursday night.

Christine Rebout, the bureau’s executive director, said the week-long event is expected to generate about $200,000 in economic impact.

Visit Madison and UW-Madison spearheaded the bid about a year ago, Rebout said.

Airport Manager Greg Cullen said the airport measures its operations by yearly takeoffs and landings. It generally clocks about 36,000 operations in a year but anticipates 4,000 to 5,000 operations during the competition alone, he said.

“When you have more activity, you have more aviation fuel sales, you have more people using local restaurants and sleeping in local hotels,” he said. “So it’s a good thing for the local economy. ... We’re just crossing our fingers for good weather all week.”

The competition arrives about six months after the Rock County Board in November formed the standalone Southern Wisconsin Regional Airport Board. The board has three county board members and six community members and oversees airport-related activities.