Contractors are eyeing a spring completion of the 1-million-sq-ft main fabrication facility of Foxconn Technology Group's planned campus in Mt. Pleasant, Wis., but exactly what the Taiwan-based company will manufacture there remains publicly unknown.
Originally planned as a generation 10 large-panel LCD screen production facility, Foxconn scaled back those plans and changed the plant to a generation 6 facility one year ago. Officials said it will produce smaller LCDs.
The core space of Foxconn's Area 1 occupies 800 acres. Construction manager Gilbane/Exyte is building a power substation and the main manufacturing facility on about 750 acres.
"Whether it's erosion control, or creating stormwater [management], or moving dirt, we started in April 2018 on the master plan site development, whereby we focused on creating the campus," says Adam Jelen, Gilbane senior vice president of its central Midwest division. "The ground, the stormwater management, the roadway systems, to make sure we could have a steady hand with vertical construction in 2019."
Last June — after the master plan, roadway infrastructure and site utilities were largely completed — crews placed foundations comprising the equivalent of approximately 17 football fields for Area 1's fabrication building in preparation for vertical construction of the walls. In August, Gilbane/Exyte and their trade partners began to place the more than 400 precast concrete panels that are the walls of the manufacturing facility. The contractor also began framing 8,000 tons of steel.
"Our goal was to be substantially enclosed on the first advanced manufacturing facility by the end of 2019, and that was accomplished," Jelen said. "Phased turnovers started in quarter two [of 2020]. And then those sequences continue in the first facility, itself. ... The goal of the project is to build a world-class advanced manufacturing campus — the first of its kind in the U.S. Along with that goal, is to really make a difference in both work force and business."
Jelen said this type of high-tech manufacturing facility is unprecedented in Wisconsin. Connecting the construction community required creating a labor and supply chain network for the campus itself.
"Those connectors really started with information sessions that were done throughout the state and reached nationally/globally for the supply chain. They were done in nearly 30 different sessions to go ahead and communicate the project and how to get involved," he said. "Right now there's over 6,000 entities in the supply chain that are getting notified on a regular basis of every update on the project and how to get involved. I think it started out with a vision of making a difference in both business and workforce through our WI-First plan."
The project excavation team had 27 companies involved. Gilbane/Exyte and its suppliers are prefabricating as much as they can off site, whether that's the piping and distribution on-site, or the precast or the steel.
"We had to make sure that we get good strong prefabrication to feed the project with a steady hand," he said. "What we're doing is continuously creating opportunity in teams... There is intensive focus on the job to create and bring the best team of trade contractors to the table for each one of these bid packages. Through these teams we've been living out that vision. We've been successful and, yes, we've created these teams and we continue each week and each month to create new teams for the next phase of the project."
The first phase of the manufacturing facility in Area 1 is on schedule for a spring 2020 completion with production still on target to begin by the end of May or shortly thereafter.
Other questions remain. Foxconn had only 178 full-time Wisconsin employees in 2018 — 82 jobs short of the minimum 260 required for the company to immediately claim $10 million in state job-creation tax credits and aid.
Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers (D) said the company likely missed its 2019 employment target, 520 people in exchange for $222 million in credits and aid. This year, the contract requires the company to create at least 1,820 jobs by year’s end in order to receive up to $270 million more in credits.
Evers also said the project’s initial employment phase will include only about 1,500 people when production begins, which is down from an estimated 1,800 last year.
Foxconn's agreement with the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., the state’s business development arm, calls for the company to create the 13,000 jobs by 2032. The deal requires the company to do its hiring in phases, meeting specific targets in order to qualify for subsidies of around $3 billion. Foxconn maintains that it will eventually hire 13,000 people in Wisconsin although it's now in a dispute with the state about what jobs can count toward that total. Foxconn plans to open innovation centers throughout the state beyond the campus in Mt. Pleasant.
In a recent op-ed published in the Wisconsin State Journal, Wisconsin Assembly Minority Leader Gordon Hintz (D) criticized the company for changing its plan from building the generation 10 facility to the generation 6 and the secrecy of what will be produced there. Hintz has been a longtime critic of the project and said in his op-ed that he had no knowledge of what was currently being built inside the facility.