The huge Foxconn plant appears to be moving forward, now that Gov. Walker and company officials have signed a contract. There’s still a long way to go until groundbreaking, but some of Foxconn’s neighbors are already thinking about how the factory will impact their businesses.
Gov. Walker and Foxconn officials signed the contract in Racine last week, at a celebration with several hundred people. Walker, who's called the deal "transformational" for the state, touted its enormous potential.
“We are so excited to have Foxconn here with its $10 billion investment, leading to 13,000 good paying, family supporting jobs right here in the state of Wisconsin,” Walker said.
Not everyone shares Walker's enthusiasm. Critics question the size and wisdom of the state's huge investment. And because the proposition was divisive while going through the legislature, it’s no surprise that neighbors have mixed opinions.
As the governor was signing the contract with Foxconn last Friday, one of Racine County’s largest attractions was bustling with activity. Located just off I-94 and Highway 11, it’s right across the freeway from the Foxconn site. The 70-acre farm offers apple picking from a huge orchard. It also has a petting zoo and hay rides.
Owner Dave Flannery says, “For a lot of customers, this is an escape from the everyday stuff that everybody is going through.”
Flannery says he’s been located here for 30 years, but pretty soon he’ll have a new neighbor – Foxconn. Gov. Walker has said the plant will be 11 times as large as Lambeau Field. And, Flannery says he fears the rural, family-friendly atmosphere he’s carefully cultivated will be lost in Foxconn’s shadow.
“It’s pretty much diametrically opposed to what we’re all about," he explains. "They’re going to be very large, very high tech, very industrial with what they refer to as a campus with many, many, many buildings."
Flannery says he’s afraid his customers will be turned off by the drastically changing landscape. His busiest season is fall, and with roads being torn up during the factory's construction, he fears patrons will have a hard time getting to Apple Holler. But, he says he's worked well with the Department of Transportation in the past, when there's been heavy construction in the area.
He also looks forward to the potential slew of new customers he'll get, when thousands of employees start working at the plant and stop in to the restaurant and bakery after work or during their lunch hour.
One person eager for Foxconn to open its doors is Debbie Davidson. She's vice president of workforce development at Gateway Technical College in Sturtevant. Davidson says it's been beefing up its curriculum, preparing to train hundreds of students for jobs at Foxconn.
“They asked us to focus on students in manufacturing, engineering or IT as a starting point,” Davidson says.
Davidson says Foxconn is already operating an interim facility near I-94 in Racine County, and about a dozen Gateway interns are working there, helping the company get organized.
“They needed interns to help with anything from, equipment is arriving, can you help put equipment together, so it was pretty broad as to what the internship would cover,” Davidson says.
While critics worry that Wisconsin is making a risky investment, Davidson says she’s confident the state's investment in Foxconn will pay off. She believes the factory will be the shot in the arm the local economy needs.