Trump hints at Foxconn in Wisconsin, but Michigan still in running for investment

LANSING - Even though published reports say Taiwanese technology giant Foxconn is eyeing Wisconsin for a multibillion investment, Michigan still is in the running for at least one of three projects the company has in mind.

Officials from Foxconn have visited Michigan three times in the past month, checking out potential locations for a new plant, according to sources with knowledge of the state’s efforts to try and lure the company to the state.

And Gov. Rick Snyder, who has been pushing a package of bills that could provide tax incentives for companies looking to make large investments in the state, confirmed earlier this week that he did travel to Japan earlier this month to explore economic opportunities for the state.

The company, which produces television and iPhone screens, wants to invest $7 billion in a production plant in the U.S. Foxconn founder and CEO Terry Guo told reporters in January that he wanted to invest in the U.S., but would need economic incentives to do so.

The Nikkei Asian Review reported last week that Michigan is a top contender for a plant that makes smaller panels that might lure some business from Detroit automakers.

The Associated Press reported Wednesday that Foxconn is in talks with the State of Wisconsin to build a plant that could employ up to 50,000 people.

President Donald Trump also alluded to negotiations with an unspecified company during a visit to Milwaukee on Tuesday, saying Gov. Scott Walker might get “a very happy surprise very soon.”

But sources in Michigan said the Foxconn project would actually be split in three and Michigan was still in the running for one or two of those projects.

The issue was brought up during a hearing on tax incentives bills in the House Tax Policy committee Wednesday. Chairman Jim Tedder, R-Clarkston, said the bills shouldn’t be just about one company.

“When we approach this, we need to do so holistically,” he said, noting he’s not really a fan of tax incentives.

Tim Souton, a vice president with the Business Leaders of Michigan, said that Wisconsin has some advantages with respect to Foxconn.

“Wisconsin has more incentive tools in their tool box than Michigan,” he told lawmakers during the hearing.

And Birgit Klohs, president and CEO of the Right Place economic development company in Grand Rapids, said incentives are crucial for all areas of Michigan to compete.

“This year, we’ve closed 10 deals, but every one of the projects we’ve worked on has had competition from other states,” she said. “And with the larger projects, we have a very difficult time competing.”

The incentive package drew a hostile reception from a couple of lawmakers during the hearing and even though the bills have already passed the Senate with bipartisan support, gaining passage in the House will be more of a challenge.

State Rep. Steven Johnson, R-Wayland, called the incentives "corporate welfare," and asked Sandy Ring, vice chairman of the Michigan Manufacturers Association, why he should trust him when the association supported previous state tax credits that have blown a multibillion dollar hole in the state’s budget in recent years.

And state Rep. Martin Howrylak, R-Troy, told Ring, “I resent you taking my money and redistributing it to other people.”

Ring said the economic development world has changed and become more efficient since the harmful Michigan Economic Growth Authority credits were given out from 1995-2011.

The new incentives are needed if the state has any hopes of attracting companies such as Foxconn, said Senate Majority Leader Arlan Meekhof, R-West Olive.

“The possibility of $3 (billion) to $5 billion in our state in an industry that’s not in our state yet is kind of alluring and we should put our best foot forward so that we don’t lose all of it or part of it to a neighboring state,” he said last week. "Without this I’m not sure Foxconn would be looking at us at all.”

But Tedder said he's only promised to give the bills — SB 242-244 — a hearing.

“I’ve made no commitment to having a vote," he said.

© 2017 Detroit Free Press


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