Foxconn is once again changing plans for its upcoming Wisconsin-based plant in the United States, according to a new report out today by Reuters. Originally set to produce large television displays, and then small to medium displays for smartphones, the location will now pivot to become largely focused on research and development.
Foxconn intends to hire "mostly engineers and researchers" instead of manufacturing workers at the Wisconsin plant. The plans to build smartphone displays, for companies like Apple, have either been greatly scaled back or shelved completely. This information comes from Louis Woo, assistant to Foxconn CEO Terry Gou.
Although the company has yet to formally announce this pivot, Woo says that Foxconn is "not building a factory" in Wisconsin at this point. According to Woo, the steep cost of making advanced screens for TV sets and other devices in the United States led to the decision.
Instead, Woo notes that Foxconn's more profitable solution is to make LCD panels in greater China and Japan, ship them to Mexico for final assembly, and import the finished products to the United States.
Rather than a focus on LCD manufacturing, Foxconn wants to create a “technology hub” in Wisconsin that would largely consist of research facilities along with packaging and assembly operations, Woo said. It would also produce specialized tech products for industrial, healthcare, and professional applications, he added.
“In Wisconsin we’re not building a factory. You can’t use a factory to view our Wisconsin investment,” Woo said.
The Wisconsin project was announced at the White House in 2017, and was used as an example by the Trump administration of a foreign company extending its manufacturing business into the United States. Now, Woo says that three-quarters of the Wisconsin plant will be staffed by people in R&D and design fields, or "knowledge" positions, rather than blue collar manufacturing jobs.
At the time, Foxconn said it would grow to employ as many as 13,000 workers at the site. In recent weeks, the company confirmed it had slowed its pace of hiring, down to about 5,200 people by the end of 2020. Now, a source within the company claims that figure is closer to 1,000 workers to start off. It's unclear if Foxconn still plans to grow to the full 13,000 workforce, and if so when that will happen.