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UW-Madison not expecting to receive $100 million gift Foxconn pledged, chancellor says

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Foxconn Globe ribbon cutting May 17

Dignitaries — including Mount Pleasant Village President Dave DeGroot, far right, and Brand Cheng, CEO and board member of Foxconn Industrial Internet, third from right — stand in front of Foxconn's 100-foot-tall High-Performance Computing Data Center Globe during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on May 17 in Mount Pleasant.

UW-Madison isn’t expecting Foxconn Technology Group to honor a $100 million pledge made to the university nearly three years ago, Chancellor Rebecca Blank said this month.

Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers has reached a scaled-down deal with Foxconn -- one that will cut tax breaks by billions. 

Billed as the biggest research partnership in UW-Madison history back in August 2018, Foxconn has fallen far short of what it said it would give to help fund a new UW-Madison engineering building and company-related research.

A UW-Madison response to a public records request by the Wisconsin State Journal on Monday shows the Taiwanese electronics company gave $700,000 in the first year of a five-year agreement and no money in the second or third year. The amount to date represents less than 1% of the original commitment.

“I am not at this point expecting to receive that gift,” Blank said in an interview with the State Journal editorial board last week. “It’d be nice. I think it’s unlikely.”

Foxconn had “a lot of issues that were not well anticipated,” Blank said, such as the trade war between the U.S. and China and other problems taking place in markets where Foxconn operated. These obstacles affected the company’s investment in Wisconsin, she said.

“We continue to work with Foxconn as we do (with) any number of other companies, looking to connect them to various resources on campus, and some of those go forward and some of them don’t,” Charles Hoslet, a vice chancellor who oversees the university’s partnerships with corporations, said in the interview with Blank.

The master agreement signed by UW-Madison and Foxconn three years ago this month didn’t specify the $100 million figure that was announced at the 2018 university event and parroted in press coverage. The agreement broadly states that the company “intends to make a substantial investment in research and other activities” with the university.

Robert Schlaeger, the special assistant to the director of U.S. strategic initiatives at Foxconn, declined in a phone call Monday to say whether Foxconn would provide UW-Madison with the $100 million the company had promised. He directed the State Journal to send an email with questions to the company’s communications representative. Foxconn did not provide answers in time for this story.

Despite the vast majority of the UW-Madison donation failing to come through, Foxconn has developed a student pipeline on campus by recruiting students at career fairs for jobs and internships.

UW-Milwaukee has an international co-op program that sends some of its engineering students to Taiwan to study language and culture at a local university and work at a Foxconn facility.

A dozen students participated in the Foxconn international co-op in 2019, UW-Milwaukee spokesperson Laura Otto said. Eleven students were accepted to the program in 2020, but the pandemic pushed their classes online and students worked remotely with employees at the Mount Pleasant facility.

Neither UW-Madison nor UW-Milwaukee collects data on the number of students who intern for or are hired by Foxconn. The company didn’t offer any numbers.

In a similar move to UW-Madison, the University of Illinois partnered with Foxconn, though its 2019 agreement with a company subsidiary includes a payment schedule for $50 million spread over 10 years. The money will go toward a technology center to be housed in the Grainger College of Engineering on the Urbana-Champaign campus.

College of Engineering spokesperson Libby Kacich confirmed Monday that the university has received what is outlined in the agreement so far — $1.25 million per calendar quarter, or $8.75 million to date.

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