The “Midwest Fyre Festival,” he called it. “All sizzle, no steak.”
Speaking recently to The Verge, state Rep. Jonathan Brostoff didn’t mince words about Taiwanese tech giant Foxconn. He doesn’t need to. Foxconn leaves a trail of incomplete projects and broken promises wherever it goes. And now, it’s charting a course for Madison.
On Friday, Foxconn announced it will purchase the BMO Harris Bank building, aka One West Main, on the Capitol Square. According to Foxconn officials, it’s intended to be an “innovation center,” which should throw up several dozen red flags. There are already four of these innovation centers throughout the state, in Eau Claire, Green Bay, Milwaukee and Racine. But there’s a curious lack of innovation — or anything, really — going on at these offices.
The Verge last week published a massive, in-depth look at these innovation centers, speaking with the everyday Wisconsinites left picking up the pieces. The story seems to always go like this: Foxconn shows up, Foxconn buys a building, Foxconn leaves. Most importantly, Verge writer Josh Dzieza tries to address what exactly these innovation centers are supposed to do. Dzieza still can’t produce a straight answer, but he does paint a clearer picture of the confusion.
For the most part, the spaces sit vacant (though Foxconn says otherwise). There are signs that construction might start at some point, but no one seems to know when. City officials throughout the state often don’t know know what they’re issuing permits for. They’re just hoping Foxconn will follow through on their grand promises.
“From what I understand, it’s related to the 8K and 5G stuff,” said Kevin Vonck, director of development for Green Bay. The “AI 8K+5G ecosystem” is Foxconn’s vaguely techy catch-all for their increasingly confusing business dealings in the state.
Brian Johnson knows firsthand just how complicated working with Foxconn can be. “There were problems from day one,” the Eau Claire developer told The Verge. Last summer, Foxconn inquired about purchasing office space in his six-story former bank building. But their demands changed constantly, and Johnson grew weary of dealing with a billion dollar company that didn’t seem to know what it wanted.
— Phoebe Petrovic (@PhoebePetrovic) April 12, 2019
“I never could figure out what they were trying to do,” he says. “Why buy a building with apartments on the top floors when you’re going to employ 150 people?”
It’s entirely possible that purchasing a property in the shadow of the State Capitol will light a fire under Foxconn execs, but their history shows otherwise. Foxconn has postured itself as a gift to the state, a high-tech savior for a once-prosperous state with a fledgling economy.
But unless something drastic changes — and soon — Foxconn is a different type of gift. It’s the kind your cat leaves when she barfs in your shoes.