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MADISON, Wis. – Even before the Foxconn Technology Group begins moving dirt for the construction of its mammoth Racine County plant, the company is sinking deeper roots into Wisconsin’s economic development soil.

Tom Still

Still

The company announced 28 subcontractors and suppliers for the town of Mount Pleasant project May 7, and all but one of those companies is based in Wisconsin. The only non-Wisconsin firm is a trucking company in Rockford, Ill., just across the border.

Those contractors and suppliers will tackle about $100 million worth of work in the opening phase of the Foxconn project and draw their workers, directly and indirectly, from 60 of Wisconsin’s 72 counties – in cities such as Black River Falls in the west, Marathon in central Wisconsin, Neenah and Seymour in the Fox Valley, and across southeast Wisconsin.

Those companies will work with general contractors M+W and Gilbane as the Racine County project, projected to be the size of 11 Lambeau Fields, embarks on what is likely to be a four-year buildout.

A second announcement came Thursday when Foxconn’s director of U.S. Strategic Initiatives, Alan Yeung, stood alongside representatives of Wisconsin’s public universities, private colleges, technical colleges and other partners to announce a $1-million initiative that promises to pay benefits long after the construction work is done.

Yeung, a UW-Madison chemical engineering graduate who coordinates Foxconn’s efforts in Wisconsin, said the company will work with higher education and others on a “Smart Cities, Smart Future” initiative – basically an “ideas competition” to engage students and faculty statewide.

The goal is to tease out ways to harness technology and other disciplines to enhance quality of life and workplaces; inspire attractive streetscapes, transportation systems and living spaces; and promote sustainable economic growth. Details aren’t yet fleshed out, but Yeung told a Kenosha crowd the initiative is all about ideas, communities and talent retention.

“We’re doing this because we want to seek the best new ideas for developing smart, connected cities and systems across Wisconsin,” Yeung said. “We want to help build communities across Wisconsin. If you live in La Crosse, Eau Claire or Green Bay, your concept or ideas of a ‘smart’ city or a ‘smart’ community may not be the same as those if you live in Milwaukee, Madison, Racine or Kenosha. We want to learn from those ideas.”

He noted it’s not a competition for “technical geeks alone,” but for the liberal arts students, staff and faculty who still make up the bulk of most colleges and universities. “Writers, digital creative artists and musicians are welcome, too,” he said.

Anticipated categories include Smart Building, Smart Citizens, Smart Energy, Smart Governance, Smart Healthcare, Smart Infrastructure, Smart Mobility and Smart Technology. Along with its partners, Foxconn is still designing the contest and essentially changing tires on a moving car.

It turns out that car may be a flying car.

“We are now talking about connected and autonomous vehicles and highways … self-flying drones,” Yeung said. “Soon, I can guarantee you, we will not only be talking, but riding, in flying cars.”

The emerging picture is of a company that won’t be content to make televisions and other current-tech electronics in Racine. As the 27th largest company in the world, it will use its Wisconsin foothold to invest more in research and development of cloud computing, the Internet of Things, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, robotics and automation.

While some Wisconsin companies occasionally choose to criticize state universities for not doing enough to produce the workers they need or question their educational priorities, Foxconn – a newcomer to Wisconsin that was initially drawn by its people, their collective work ethic and its education system – has elected to partner with higher education and others around some lofty goals.

The car may be not flying yet, but tapping into the collective ingenuity of 350,000 students, staff and faculty will help get that and more ideas off the ground.

Tom Still is president of the Wisconsin Technology Council, one of the partners in “Smart Cities, Smart Future.” He is the former associate editor of the Wisconsin State Journal.

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(5) comments

johnnybragatti

Clinton"s looking pretty dang good right about, ain"t she?
Especially compared to crooked Trump, the criminal scumbag in chief.
Soon Mueller will show why he is the greatest Republican and American, anywhere and anyhow.

new2Lax

Sounds like Walker knew what he was talking about. Wisconsin wins again. Looks like the bordering States will have to wait a bit longer for assistance from Foxconn.

Cassandra2

Newt, your unflagging cheeriness for all things republican never ceases to amaze me. You are more than willing to accept without question the manifest goodness of any project championed by the right no matter the long-term cost, yet instinctively jerk your knees against anything that takes into account the long-term needs of workers or the environment. Why is that?

new2Lax

More than likely it is because of what we have experienced with Democrats in office, their lack of leadership and accountability was driving the country toward third world status. Think about it, they could not keep the House, Senate or the Presidency, not to mention the thousands of State legislatures and with the help of a biased media, weaponizing the DOJ, FBI and the IRS. So you tell me, why is that, would you put your trust in a party like that. The country has had enough and was at the breaking point, foreign and domestically. I hope that satisfied your question. Look at any measure you want, America is on its way. What bothers me is you not seeing what's happened to the Democrat party. Explain how this all happened to them. Clinton scandal still not over and was a miscarriage of justice, Russia collusion a hoax, the Mueller investigation falling apart with the bias resulting in firings, demotions, suspensions etc. Now the attorney Sessions put in charge from Utah, a Mr. Uber has already issued criminal referrals. I suspect it would more than likely be John Brennan and James Clapper for their corrupt involvement on pretty much everything they touched. I would also suspect a grand jury will be in session very soon. I have not followed this up completely yet but I will within a day or two. Then you can take it to the bank.

Cassandra2

Nationwide, Democrats outpolled republicans in races for Congress and the presidency. It is only due to gerrymandering and the vagaries of the Electoral College that republicans were able to seize power. And here Newt launches into a screed about "weaponizing the DOG, FBI and the IRS." In effect, Newt is advocating NOT enforcing laws that are on the books and giving republicans a pass on lawlessness. Interesting.

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