By State Representative, Leon D. Young
On its face, it looks like an extraordinary generous gift and would be the largest investment from a research partner in the University of Wisconsin’s history. Foxconn Technology Group has pledged up to $100 million to the University of Wisconsin-Madison, including funding to help establish a new interdisciplinary research facility for the College of Engineering that will collaborate with the company’s planned manufacturing complex in southeast Wisconsin.
It should be noted that for the university to receive the full $100 million from Foxconn, UW must raise another $100 million in private gifts over the next two years as part of the broader, $3.2 billion fundraising campaign dubbed All Ways Forward. The sub campaign to match Foxconn’s matching gift will focus on supporting research that advances engineering, data and computer science, and human health.
In addition to helping pay for a new interdisciplinary facility for the College of Engineering–the bulk of Foxconn’s contribution will go for that purpose–the company and the university will establish the Foxconn Institute for Research in Science and Technology. The institute will have its main location in Mount Pleasant and will have an off-campus presence in Madison. It will provide an environment for research and development initiatives in such fields as medical science, materials science, computer and data-driven science.
Now, Foxconn, Advocate Aurora Health, Johnson Controls Inc. and Northwestern Mutual have raised a $100 million venture capital fund to focus on investments in companies that employ Foxconn’s technology. The Wisconn Valley Fund will be based in the company’s North American headquarters at 611 W. Wisconsin Ave. The announcement came a day after Foxconn announced it had pledged a $100 million matching gift to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to establish Capitol Report–Page 3 a new research center in the College of Engineering.
And, according to recent reports, Foxconn plans to develop “innovation centers” in its downtown Milwaukee office and in Green Bay and Eau Claire. The idea is to provide co-working space, high-powered computing and data analysis capabilities, and access to Foxconn technology and its experts. The centers will be a place where “entrepreneurs and startup companies can get their feet wet.”
Naturally, Foxconn’s decision to double-down on its $10 billion Wisconsin investment is sweet music to Scott Walker’s ear. Faced with a daunting reelection challenge that now finds him in a dead heat with his Democratic opponent, Tony Evers, Walker is hoping to ride Foxconn’s coattail to victory.
If given their druthers, Foxconn would clearly prefer for Walker to win the election in November. After all, he was one of the prime Capitol Report–Page 4 architects of the $4 billion state subsidy that the company received. And, Evers is on record that he has some reservations about the enormous giveaway to foreign corporation. However, rather than trying to end the deal in its entirety, Evers would be open to negotiating possible contract changes.
It’s no secret that Foxconn has a rather spotty investment history in terms of making good on all its promises and, in most instances, failing to provide a safe work environment for its employees. But, one could make the case that Foxconn may view Wisconsin as more than just a “bricks-and-mortar” investment. If Foxconn’s latest commitments to the state is any indication, the company may be altering its business stripes and wants to be viewed as a good corporate citizen. With that being said, only time will tell.