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Evers walks back doubts about Foxconn after meeting with CEO

Gov. Tony Evers met with Foxconn CEO Terry Gou for the first time Thursday and hours later backpedaled on his claim the company likely wouldn’t meet its promise to create 13,000 jobs in Wisconsin.

“The fact that I said that they may not have 13,000 (jobs), it could be less, it could be more; to me it doesn’t matter,” Evers told the editorial boards of the Kenosha News and Racine Journal Times. “I’m not doubting their word, I’m just saying that we want as much clarity as we can going forward, and we talked about what they’re doing right now as far as building.”

But his statement comes two weeks after Evers told reporters the idea that Foxconn would create 13,000 jobs was “difficult to imagine” and an “unrealistic expectation.”

Evers also told the newspapers Thursday he was “never not supportive” of the Foxconn arrangement despite repeatedly calling it “lousy” during his run for governor.

In November 2017, Evers said he “could smell something rotten” about the deal. Last fall, he called it a “horrible deal” that “just about anybody” could have done a better job of putting together than former Gov. Scott Walker.

Gou flew to Milwaukee after meeting Wednesday in Washington with President Donald Trump and telling him Foxconn’s plans to build a massive display panel factory and research complex in Mount Pleasant remain on track, according to Nikkei Asian Review. The publication said Gou, who plans to run for president of Taiwan, also discussed his candidacy with Trump.

The founder of the $170 billion company, best known for manufacturing the iPhone and other Apple gear, met with Evers after arriving at Mitchell International Airport on his private jet.

“Maybe there’s something that I haven’t seen,” Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz, D-Oshkosh, said Thursday. “As long as anybody, including Foxconn, is just trotting out 13,000 jobs—they have no credibility.”

Hintz said it’s false to claim 13,000 jobs is still possible given Foxconn’s announcement that they are no longer building the facility for which a public subsidy package was drafted.

He said the 13,000 figure was never a goal. Rather, it was a figure from a 2017 economic analysis that found that many jobs could be expected from that type of manufacturing facility.

Foxconn at the time was planning to build a “Generation 10.5” flat-screen plant.

“That number wasn’t pulled out of the air. It was never a goal. It was a number for a specific project that is no longer happening,” Hintz said. “We have an obligation to be cautious, but if they’ve come up with something that they can do and there’s an actual proposal—not just claims … if you tell me there’s a new project that is economically feasible, then great. I would love to have an economic development project we can believe in.”

Asked before the meeting what he planned to say to Gou, Evers told reporters: “I’ll say, ‘Hello, Chairman Gou. It’s great to see you and I’m looking forward to making sure that you’re successful in the state of Wisconsin. We protect the taxpayers and the environmental standards that we have in the state.’ So I’m looking forward to that.”

Gou stepped out of his plane late Thursday morning at Signature Flight Services wearing a baseball cap with side-by-side images of the Taiwan and U.S. flags. About a dozen people waited to greet him in light rain. Accompanying Gou was special assistant Louis Woo.

Before Gou’s arrival, Foxconn aides were stationed at Signature, which runs a terminal used by private planes, and a conference room was being prepared. Mark Hogan, secretary and CEO of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., also was to be at the meeting.

Foxconn has said it will invest $10 billion in a Mount Pleasant complex that will manufacture liquid crystal display panels.

In exchange for that investment and creating 13,000 jobs, the company could qualify for as much as $4 billion in state and local incentives. Most of the state subsidies are tied to the company’s investment and payroll.

Evers in recent weeks has said Foxconn officials want to change their contract with the state, but he and company officials have not described what changes are being discussed.

Foxconn has shifted its Wisconsin plans significantly from what it initially proposed nearly two years ago. Most notably, the firm sharply altered the planned makeup of its Wisconsin workforce, greatly reducing the numbers of production employees and increasing those of engineers.

Foxconn also backed away from building the “Generation 10.5” flat-screen plant specified in its state and local contracts in favor of a smaller and less costly “Generation 6” factory. The company has said it was responding to changing market conditions.

Such changes have fed skepticism about Foxconn’s intentions, as has the halting of most work at the Mount Pleasant site over the winter.

According to Nikkei Asian Review, Gou told Taiwanese journalists in Washington on Wednesday that Foxconn “suspended the (Mount Pleasant) work around October, November last year because the weather there was snowy and icy cold.”

Those conditions, however, did not stop construction workers on two projects that are related to Foxconn but are not under the company’s direction. Crews worked through the winter on the American Transmission Co. electrical substation being built next to Foxconn’s planned factory site. Also working through the winter were the crews that have been widening I-94.

The Republican leaders who control the Legislature—Assembly Speaker Robin Vos of Rochester and Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald of Juneau—have said Wisconsin has a strong deal with the company and criticized Evers for talking about changing the agreement.

GOP remains confident

Vos also met with Gou. Vos represents the area where Foxconn is building its plant.

“The meeting was another positive step forward in the development of the Foxconn project in Racine County,” Vos said in a statement. “Let’s hope now that they’ve met with Governor Evers, we can put the political back and forth behind us. We’re all on the same team and we can’t have politics get in the way of this transformational project.”

At a news conference, Vos reiterated his belief that Foxconn will honor its promises, and poked at Democrats who have expressed doubts.

“We know today that once again Chairman Gou is continuing to say that they are going to live up to the commitments that they have made to the state of Wisconsin and the local people who live in Racine County,” Vos said during a news conference at Mitchell.

He said he and his colleagues were glad Evers was meeting with Gou.

“There’s been an awful lot of rhetoric, especially on the Democrat side, attacking Foxconn, doubting their ability to actually create the jobs that they have promised,” Vos said. “And I certainly think that on our side we know we have an ironclad deal that is entirely scalable, based on the amount of jobs they are creating. So if for some reason Foxconn only creates 75 percent of the jobs, they would only get 75 percent of the credit.”

That’s true of the up to $1.5 billion in state tax credits Foxconn stands to receive for job creation. The company, however, also can receive $1.35 billion in investment tax credits for spending it undertakes on its Mount Pleasant complex. Foxconn could get all $1.35 billion in investment credits by creating 8,450 jobs—not the full 13,000.

Both the jobs and investment credits are “refundable,” meaning Foxconn will receive them whether or not it owes state taxes. Wisconsin waives nearly all corporate and income taxes on manufacturing profits.

Asked whether he was skeptical about Foxconn creating 13,000 jobs, Vos again cited the pay-for-performance nature of the state contract.

“I know that jobs are going to be there,” he said. “I know that they have pledged to have the 13,000 jobs, and I take people at their word.”

Vos pointed to the extensive site preparation that has been done in Mount Pleasant and to contracts Foxconn already has let for further work.

“We know that the project is going to break ground sometime soon, and that’s something that we should all be incredibly optimistic about,” Vos said.

Nothing in the state’s contract with Foxconn needs to be changed, he said.

“My hope is that we’re turning the corner,” Vos said, “that perhaps today Gov. Evers finally has accepted the fact that Gov. (Scott) Walker and the Republicans negotiated a really good deal for the state of Wisconsin. And perhaps by hearing it directly from Chairman Gou’s own mouth, he’ll be able to accept the reality that Foxconn is going to be a huge benefit for our state and we should all celebrate it.”

Gou also met Thursday afternoon with Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave, Mount Pleasant Village President David DeGroot and Racine County Economic Development Corp. Executive Director Jenny Trick.

In a joint statement, the three said they “continue to be encouraged by the progress we are seeing on the (factory) site and the continued dialogue between Foxconn leadership and state and local officials.”

Angela Major 

Attendees sing during a service for the National Day of Prayer on Thursday, May 2, 2019, at the Lower Courthouse Park in Janesville.

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Rock County introduces tool to rate nitrate risk in groundwater


After years of research, Rock County this week launched an interactive online nitrate risk-tracking tool that estimates nitrate contamination hazards in groundwater by address.

The interactive map rates nitrate risks from “low or none” to “very high” for each square mile of the county. It considers local land cover, soil type, septic system density and irrigation to determine possible nitrate dangers.

Users of the map are able to input their home addresses and identify what the nitrate risks are in the area.

Nick Zupan, an epidemiologist at the Rock County Public Health Department, debuted the map at the Rock County Board of Health meeting Wednesday night. He said the tool has been an ongoing project for three years and is designed to strengthen communication with residents who own private wells.

Nitrates are found in fertilizers and food and waste materials. They can leach into groundwater if they are not carried away in runoff or absorbed by plants.

Officials say the county’s nitrate levels are among the highest in the state. The county estimates at least 30% of private wells have high nitrates levels, or more than 10 parts per million.

Drinking water with high nitrate levels carries heightened risks of blue baby syndrome, and there are possible links to diabetes and some cancers.

Rock County’s map does not indicate nitrate levels in drinking water. It only rates the risks of nitrates in groundwater, which might signal that the drinking water in that area is a health hazard, officials said.

In areas with very high nitrate levels, county officials encourage homeowners with wells to test their water annually.

Rick Wietersen, environmental health director at the public health department, said low or no-risk areas still could have nitrate contamination in the groundwater.

Groundwater with high nitrate levels might flow to nearby areas, he said. Nitrate levels also could vary depending on the groundwater’s depth. He said the risk tool essentially determines the nitrate level at the top of the groundwater, but not necessarily the well water.

“Even when it’s a low risk, we really encourage people to test their wells,” Wietersen said.

To reduce nitrates, treatment techniques for homeowners include reverse osmosis, ion exchange and distillation, Wietersen said.

Rock County launched the online tool Monday afternoon. Zupan said the department now will promote it by doing social media outreach, tracking website usage and ideally increasing water tests.

A grant from the National Environmental Health Association helped pave the way for the tool, allowing the county to use state Department of Health Services’ data expertise to build it.

Rock County was the only recipient of the $2,500 grant in the country.

In his presentation, Zupan said students from UW-Whitewater’s geography department helped determine the four main ingredients that contribute to high nitrate levels in the county. The students then combined the data into a map, which eventually blossomed into the interactive tool.

“We want it to be a communication tool. The main message is we want people to be testing their well water,” Zupan said. “If we can increase that, then we can get down the road of what people need to do to mitigate some of the risks.”

Angela Major 

Barb Clark, right, raises her hands as she sings next to Mark Clark, left, on Thursday, May 2, 2019, at the Lower Courthouse Park in Janesville.

Obituaries and death notices for May 3, 2019

Mary Ann Bickle

Joan Inez Lord

Martelle Kathryn Onsrud

Michael E. Stefanik

Submitted Photo 

Work continues on Walworth County’s new Health and Human Services building in Elkhorn. Construction on the building began last year and is expected to be completed in November. Joe Kroll, county engineer for the Walworth County Public Works, said the building is about 50% completed.

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Janesville's charity Tub Run canceled weeks before 25th anniversary ride


A charity motorcycle ride that has rumbled through Rock County for almost a quarter-century, and raised more than $2 million to fight muscular dystrophy, has been canceled this year.

Boardtracker Harley Owners Group, a motorcycle club most closely associated with the Muscular Dystrophy Association Tub Run, confirmed this week that the Tub Run won’t go on.

The Tub Run’s 25th anniversary ride had been slated June 1. Organizers are redirecting riders with paid pledges to another MDA ride later this summer in Madison.

The announcement comes in the wake of Boardtracker Harley-Davidson effectively shutting its doors in Janesville amid a legal fight with Harley-Davidson over allegations the dealership has not repaid loans to the company.

The Janesville dealership’s owners are trying to sell it and another dealership in New Berlin, according to court documents.

Boardtracker closed abruptly April 15. A dealership owner this week filed a document in federal court that laid out plans for the business’s future, but the filing is heavily redacted under a protective order, and no details are visible to the public.

Boardtracker has not publicly stated when or whether the dealership might reopen. Callers to the dealership get a busy signal, according to recently filed court papers.

Boardtracker had hosted the Tub Run at its north-side facility, which served as the starting point of a ride that sometimes drew at least 1,000 participants. Under a former owner, the dealership served as the base of operations for more than 20 years.

A regional event coordinator for the Muscular Dystrophy Association confirmed the ride’s cancellation, which was partly due to uncertainty over Boardtracker’s future.

Scarlett Marchman, vice president of partnerships for MDA’s Chicago region, said the agency “had no choice” but to scrub the Tub Run. The decision was made last month after the MDA met with Boardtracker and the local Harley Owners Group.

“There was a lot of unknowns and some risk. We didn’t want to cancel it, I assure you,” Marchman said.

“I don’t think that it (Boardtracker’s closure) is 100 percent the reason,” she said. “But it certainly had a part in it. It’d be crazy to think it didn’t have a part in it. Also, the timing was very close to the event being held. The timing is very difficult.”

The Tub Run’s cancellation is significant, Marchman said, because it was one of the longest-running charity rides the MDA partnered with in Wisconsin.

Local organizers say it sometimes brought in $200,000 a year.

“To be honest with you, we need that support. We rely on that support for summer camp and for our clinics in the area,” Marchman said.

Marchman said the MDA will send letters to riders already signed up for the Tub Run and others who have participated in past years, asking them to consider participating in the Freedom Ride, an MDA charity ride July 20 at Harley-Davidson of Madison.

The Freedom Ride is now in its 34th year.

As of April 4, the Boardtracker Harley Owners Group had continued to post on social media sites that details on the ride were coming soon. Word of the Tub Run’s cancellation has slowly spread on social media over the last few weeks, but the group didn’t publicly say the event was off until this week.

An officer with the club who wanted to remain anonymous—“so I’m not stepping on anyone’s toes”—said the club has gone dormant since the dealership shut down.

The group can’t operate or hold meetings without being sponsored by a licensed dealership, and the Boardtracker dealership is no longer the sponsor, the officer said.

The officer said the club has known about the cancellation for nearly a month. The decision was made several days before Boardtracker closed, the officer said.

Now, the local Harley Owners Group is joining the MDA’s effort to redirect Tub Run riders to the July 20 Freedom Ride in Madison.