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Proposed Foxconn Panel Factory Could Challenge Nearby Labor Forces

The factory could throw southeastern Wisconsin into competition with the Bay Area for engineers and other high-tech workers.

As many as seven states are reportedly vying to host Taiwanese electronics giant Foxconn's forthcoming U.S. display panel factory, but Wisconsin's efforts drew particular attention in recent weeks.

Gov. Scott Walker's visit to Japan last month was rumored to be linked to a bid for the $7 billion factory, and President Trump hinted that the state could receive "a very happy surprise very soon" during a subsequent visit.

Last week, House Speaker Paul Ryan indicated that he met with Foxconn officials and that cities in his southeastern Wisconsin district could be candidates to house the plant.

But the state could face a steeper hurdle than compiling an incentive package capable of landing Foxconn.

The company employs more than 1 million workers, primarily in China, that assemble devices for Apple, Sony, Blackberry and other electronics giants, but the proposed U.S. facility would build display panels with the help of automated systems and artificial intelligence.

Although Wisconsin economic development officials argue that the state already supports electronics makers, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel noted that the scale of the proposed Foxconn plant would challenge the local economy.

The factory could employ 10,000 employees, but it would throw the region into direct competition with Silicon Valley and other tech-savvy regions for the engineers required to operate its sophisticated equipment.

The massive new plant would also likely inflate local wages, siphon talent from other nearby businesses and strain the local supply chain and even traffic infrastructure.

"Foxconn isn’t coming here for welders,” Milwaukee-based computer scientist and entrepreneur Jay Bayne told the Journal Sentinel. β€œIt will change the culture immensely.”

Wisconsin, of course, is not alone in its shortage of skilled workers for high-tech manufacturing positions β€” even among the states it's competing with for the Foxconn factory.

Pennsylvania, which already houses some Foxconn operations, was an early candidate, and Michigan this week passed legislation to revive tax incentives for job creation in an effort to attract the electronics maker.

Foxconn is expected to announce its final plans by early next month.

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