Foxconn’s on/off switch

The Milwaukee Business Journal:

Foxconn Technology Group on Friday said it will build an LCD screen fabrication facility in Mount Pleasant, a move that was put into question after reports earlier this week of the company reconsidering its plans.

The company said the decision came after “productive discussions between the White House and the company, and after a personal conversation between President Donald J. Trump and Chairman Terry Gou.” That Gen 6 plant will fabricate smaller, high-resolution LCD screens than the company had originally planned to make in its Mount Pleasant plant.

Reports from Reuters and Japanese news publication Nikkei Asian Review had called into question whether Foxconn would be fabricating any LCD screens in Wisconsin at all. The company earlier this week committed to building packaging plants, assembly facilities and research centers over the next 18 months in Mount Pleasant. But it fell short of committing to the Gen 6 fabrication plant to make TFT, or “thin-film-transistor” screens.

“Our decision is also based on a recent comprehensive and systematic evaluation to help determine the best fit for our Wisconsin project among TFT technologies,” Foxconn’s written statement Friday announced. “We have undertaken the evaluation while simultaneously seeking to broaden our investment across Wisconsin far beyond our original plans to ensure the company, our workforce, the local community, and the state of Wisconsin will be positioned for long-term success.”

That fabrication plant could break ground over the next 18 months, according to a Friday statement from Racine County, the village of Mount Pleasant and the Racine County Economic Development Corp. The company in April is expected to hold open houses regarding its upcoming construction plans.

Foxconn’s announcement ends a week where the firm’s Wisconsin plans attracted extreme scrutiny. A Reuters story on Tuesday raised speculation that Foxconn may not manufacture in Wisconsin at all, a point the company refuted.

Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce, described it as watching “a Twitter world collide with a dynamic, global business decision.”

Foxconn’s strategy in Wisconsin has evolved over the past six months, which is in keeping with the company’s reputation of being flexible and responsive to market conditions.

Foxconn first announced last year it was backing off from plans for a Gen 10.5 facility in Wisconsin to make very large LCD screens. Instead, the Gen 6 plant will produce small to mid-sized displays that would be used in televisions and by automakers.

“Over the last year at least, the capacity for the large LCD screen manufacturing in China has grown exponentially, and the cost has been cut in half,” Sheehy said.

The actual fabrication of screens in Wisconsin is significant. The company is building Gen 10.5 plants in China, but such operations don’t exist in the United States. Fabricating the screens, versus assembling products around the finished LCD displays, was expected to attract a new supply chain of manufacturers to Foxconn’s plant.

Sheehy said there is value to Foxconn’s research and development operations planned for Wisconsin, but the fabrication plant creates “an opportunity for supply chain and a more robust capital investment.”

Contractors over the last several months have leveled an estimated 3-million-square-foot plot of land near Interstate 94 in Mount Pleasant that was intended for the fabrication facility. That facility is to be the centerpiece of a larger manufacturing and technology campus Foxconn is developing.

That campus will also include extensive research and development operations to explore new applications of Foxconn’s technology in health care and other arenas. Foxconn earlier this week also planned to build a data center and rapid prototyping center at its Mount Pleasant campus.

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