A pro football analogy seems to fit.

Three years ago, Wisconsin Republicans who ran the Capitol and President Donald Trump gave Foxconn the coveted “franchise player” label, saying the electronics giant could get $3 billion from taxpayers if it hit jaw-dropping numbers of $10 billion invested and 13,000 workers hired.

Last week, Foxconn fell to “player-to-be-named-later” status when the administration of Democratic Gov. Tony Evers promised it up to $80 million if it hit new reality-based performance numbers—$672 million invested and 1,454 workers hired.

But it does appear that Foxconn will soon qualify for $29 million of that $80 million. The NFL has a term for that: signing bonus.

Cue the replay camera.

It was June 2018 when Trump, then-Gov. Scott Walker, then-U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan and Foxconn founder Terry Gou broke ground for Foxconn’s huge manufacturing campus in Mount Pleasant. Great election-year photo op for Walker. “Eighth wonder of the world,” Trump gushed.

But Trump and Walker both lost reelection bids. Ryan retired. And Gou launched a short-lived campaign to be Taiwan’s president.

And Foxconn executives decided the quickly shifting electronics market forced it to abandon its 2017 contractual promise to build giant—the size of two twin beds, one Foxconn exec told Wisconsin business executives—flat-panel display screens for televisions and medical and other devices.

Years of speculation, mystery and rumors followed.

What would Foxconn build on its giant Racine County campus—a campus whose infrastructure local governments mortgaged their financial futures to provide? The latest entry in the rumor-of-the-month club was electric vehicles.

Evers, elected in 2018, had nothing to do with the Republican deal that stopped just short of renaming the state Foxconnsin. Team Evers insisted Foxconn stick to the original contract to build the giant flat-panel screens or not qualify for any of that $3 billion.

Here’s why both sides declared victory after last week’s deal, which rewrote the 2017 contract and was approved by Foxconn executives and the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation.

Foxconn got generic, vague language saying it would qualify for up to $80 million, assuming it hires 1,454 workers who earn an average of $53,875 a year and invests $672 million by 2026 by operating a “high-tech manufacturing ecosystem.”

That allows the company to argue that basically anything it ends up manufacturing in Mount Pleasant qualifies.

In its victory statement, Foxconn touted its new flexibility to adjust to market demands:

“Our new agreement signals to the United States and international business communities that our Science and Technology Park still benefits from unique advantages that make Wisconsin, and our Park, an attractive place to call home, drive business, and grow jobs. Foxconn looks forward to working with WEDC and our local partners to attract market-driven development to the Park.

For his part, Evers resolved what could have been a damaging campaign issue next year when he is expected to run for reelection.

That’s why the Democrats’ “we have a deal” statement mentioned his 2018 campaign and, by doing so, connected the dots to a 2022 re-election bid:

“When I ran to be governor, I made a promise to work with Foxconn to cut a better deal for our state. The last deal didn’t work for Wisconsin, and that doesn’t work for me.

“Today I’m delivering on that promise with an agreement that treats Foxconn like any other business and will save taxpayers $2.77 billion, protect the hundreds of millions of dollars in infrastructure investments the state and local communities have already made, and ensure there’s accountability for creating the jobs promised.”

Foxconn also made sure the new deal applies only to its Mount Pleasant manufacturing campus. It does not require the company to fulfill its promises of $100 million in research-and-development cash to UW-Madison and opening tech centers in the Fox Valley and western Wisconsin.

Evers insisted he “right-sized” the Foxconn deal, bringing its tax-break incentives in line with past economic development deals. And it protects the infrastructure investments of local governments, he added.

Even Assembly Speaker Robin Vos, the senior Republican leader who represents Racine County, was happy. The new deal “actually gives the company even more financial incentives than the original did,” Vos said.

In football terms, though, it’s too soon to know which team might be thrown for a loss.

Steven Walters has covered the Capitol since 1988.


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