Wisconsin raises stakes to lure iPhone maker Foxconn

Scott Bauer
Associated Press

Madison, Wis. — Wisconsin is working on a package of incentives to lure Taiwanese iPhone manufacturer Foxconn to the state as part of a deal that two state lawmakers said Thursday could come as soon as the end of the month, putting it in direct competition with Michigan.

Wisconsin is one of several Midwest states vying for Foxconn as it considers building a $7 billion display panel manufacturing plant that could employ up to 10,000 people. The company was expected to announce its decision by early August.

Michigan passed new economic incentives to sweeten its deal for Foxconn last week. The legislation creates a new tax incentive program, with maximum state commitments of $200 million for up to 15 qualifying companies at any one time. If they meet job-creation and worker wage requirements, those companies could keep some or all of the income taxes their new employees would otherwise pay to the state.

Foxconn may end up picking more than one state for multiple new facilities it’s considering.

A representative for Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder declined to comment Thursday on the Wisconsin developments.

Wisconsin Republican Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald told the Associated Press on Thursday that “huge, big numbers” are being talked about to help land Foxconn. And Rep. John Nygren and Sen. Luther Olsen said the state could announce a deal by the end of the month. None said they knew how much in incentives the state may ultimately offer.

“I really don’t have a lot of information and any legislator up at the Capitol that tells you they do is not telling the truth,” Fitzgerald told WKOW-TV. Fitzgerald said negotiations going on with Gov. Scott Walker’s office and state economic development officials have been “kept very close to the vest until they have something.”

Walker downplayed talk of an imminent deal.

“We don’t have a specific proposal on the table,” Walker told reporters. “Anything that’s being talked about right now is purely speculative.”

Walker and state economic development officials have repeatedly declined to comment about Foxconn, saying they can’t discuss ongoing negotiations.

Nygren, who is co-chairman of the Legislature’s budget committee, said incentives for Foxconn would not be included in the two-year budget currently being worked on that’s already three weeks past due. But he said money being considered for tax cuts now, like $200 million Walker wanted to use to cut income taxes, may instead be needed for incentives later as part of any deal with Foxconn.

Nygren was optimistic Wisconsin would win the race to land Foxconn, but stressed that talks were fluid and the company could just as easily choose another state. He and other lawmakers attended a barbecue at the governor’s mansion with Walker and Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou last week.

Olsen said the state could announce it has entered into a memorandum of understanding with Foxconn by the end of the month. Olsen said he wanted to hold off passing Wisconsin’s overdue state budget “until we know what’s going on with this.”

Foxconn assembles smartphones and other devices for Apple, Sony, BlackBerry and other brands.