MADISON, Wis.—Wisconsin Republican Gov. Scott Walker just got what may be the biggest political boost of his career, and it couldn’t have come at a better time.
President Donald Trump’s July 26 announcement that Wisconsin had won the high-stakes fight to be home to Foxconn’s first U.S. manufacturing plant—a $10 billion investment that could mean 3,000 jobs or more for the state—the largest economic development project in state history.
It not only gives Walker’s job-creation credentials a jolt but also allows him to further distance himself from his biggest failure—not fulfilling his 2010 campaign promise to create 250,000 jobs in four years.
“Walk-off grand slam home run,” said Brandon Scholz, a longtime Republican operative in Wisconsin and former state party director. He called the Foxconn news the pinnacle of Walker’s time as governor and a fulfilment of what he’s been promising to do.
“It’s going to be tough for any of his prospective opponents to criticize him for not doing the things he’s supposed to do as governor, for not improving the Wisconsin economy,” Scholz said. “The one word response will be: Foxconn.”
Walker was able to land the deal with the Taiwanese manufacturing giant thanks in large part to Wisconsin’s deep connections with the White House. House Speaker Paul Ryan, whose congressional district will be home to the plant, worked closely with Trump and Walker on the deal. So too did White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, a Kenosha, Wis., native who said he talked up the potential of southeast Wisconsin to Trump for the plant.
Foxconn’s promise to hire 3,000 people, which might turn in to 13,000 eventually, didn’t come easy.
The decision to build the plant in Wisconsin stemmed from $3 billion in state economic incentives over 15 years if Foxconn invests $10 billion in the state and ultimately adds 13,000 jobs. The incentives would only be awarded if Foxconn creates the jobs and pays an average salary of nearly $54,000.
The Wisconsin factory, scheduled to be open by 2020, would be massive. The campus dubbed “Wisconn Valley,” would cover nearly 1.6 square miles and be three times the size of the Pentagon.
Foxconn’s plant will produce liquid-crystal display panels, or LCDs, that are used in televisions and computer screens. It would mark a substantial gain for a state that currently has 472,000 manufacturing jobs and is still recovering from factory layoffs—including the closure of a General Motors plant in Ryan’s hometown—that hit after the 2008 financial crisis.
Taiwan-based Foxconn is perhaps best known for assembling Apple iPhones in China. The company noted in a statement that having the Wisconsin factory would help it better serve the major U.S. technology companies that are its clients.
Seven states had competed for the Foxconn plant. By awarding the plant to Wisconsin, Foxconn would appear to be giving a victory to both Trump and the state’s Republican governor, Scott Walker, who is up for re-election next year.
Other states that vied for the plant are Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas. Foxconn said in a release the announcement was just the first of several investments the company will be making in the U.S.
Critics have cautioned that Foxconn has made promises before to invest in the U.S. and not followed through. Foxconn promised in 2013 to invest $30 million and hire 500 workers for a new, high-tech factory in Pennsylvania that was never built. State Sen. Alberta Darling, co-chair of the Wisconsin Legislature’s budget committee, said any deal would be examined with a “fine-toothed comb” and need to win approval by the Republican-controlled Legislature.
Foxconn is the biggest contract assembler of smartphones and other devices for Apple and other brands.