When Taiwanese electronics manufacturer Foxconn announced that it would be opening a factory in Wisconsin, one of the big selling points was that it would create 13,000 high-paying jobs in the state over several years — jobs that would help advance Wisconsin’s tech sector. But the Wall Street Journal reports there’s a chance not all of those jobs will go to Wisconsin residents.
According to the Journal, Foxconn is considering bringing in some engineers from China to staff the new factory, as the company is reportedly having trouble finding skilled workers in the state. The Journal didn’t say how many of the jobs Foxconn is planning to fill through internal transfers.
The story follows a June report from a Wisconsin newspaper suggesting that the first factory Foxconn intends to build in Wisconsin would be smaller than initially planned. That raised concerns about whether Foxconn would still contribute 13,000 jobs. The company said it still intends to do so, albeit not through a single factory but rather through “other next-generation manufacturing facilities.”
In a statement to the Journal, Foxconn said that its “Wisconsin-first commitment remains unchanged” and that the majority of the 13,000 workers will still “work on high-value production and engineering assignments and in the research and development field.” Foxconn had previously said that the 13,000 jobs will pay an average annual wage of $53,875. In a later statement to Gizmodo, Foxconn denied that it’s “recruiting Chinese personnel to staff our Wisconsin project.”
It’s not surprising that Foxconn would consider bringing over some of its existing employees in order to get a new factory off the ground. But the news is likely to make Wisconsin residents even more nervous about what exactly they’ll get out of the Foxconn deal. The deal, initially estimated to cost the state $3 billion, is now expected to cost the state more than $4 billion. That’s the highest incentive package ever awarded to a foreign company by a U.S. state.
The news also comes on the heels of a report that Amazon, which announced last year that it was looking for a city in which to place its second North American headquarters, is instead going to split its second headquarters between two cities. The reason, reportedly, is that Amazon is concerned about finding enough tech talent for its second headquarters, which was initially projected to bring 50,000 jobs to whichever city the company chose.
The Journal doesn’t quote any Foxconn executive on the company’s hiring challenges, but it notes that at a recent job fair Foxconn hosted in Wisconsin, it interviewed just 300 out of 1,300 applicants. In September, Wisconsin had an unemployment rate of 3.0 percent, below the national average.
The tech industry is seeing promising growth in some parts of Wisconsin. According to a Brookings Institution report last year, the Wisconsin college town of Madison ranked number 20 on a list of U.S. metro areas that added the most tech jobs between 2013 and 2015.
That is also in keeping with national trends, as the areas seeing the most growth in tech jobs are coastal hubs like San Francisco, Seattle, and Austin and college towns. Foxconn’s factory will be going in Racine, Wisconsin, a suburb of Milwaukee.
Update, 9:15 a.m. Pacific: Foxconn has denied to Gizmodo that it’s considering transferring engineers over to Wisconsin. “We can categorically state that the assertion that we are recruiting Chinese personnel to staff our Wisconsin project is untrue,” Foxconn told Gizmodo in an email. VentureBeat is still waiting for a comment back from Foxconn.