After the ceremonial groundbreaking at Foxconn’s “Wisconn Valley” complex in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin (see my last blog post), President Trump visited a nearby Foxconn pilot TV production site where, with leaders from the Wisconsin political scene and from Foxconn, Trump celebrated the launch of the first LCD manufacturing site in the USA (and the first outside of Asia).
The political presentation started with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, speaking in full campaign mode as he is running for re-election this fall. Walker highlighted the project as good for the people and the taxpayers in Wisconsin. In response to critics in his state who have said that the $3 billion in state subsidies (and $4.5 billion in total subsidies, including local government subsidies and infrastructure improvements) is too much, Walker claimed that the Foxconn plant would bring a total of more than $50 billion in business to the state in the coming years, eighteen times as much as the state subsidy, and that along with the 13,000 jobs promised by Foxconn, an additional 20-25,000 secondary jobs would be created.
Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker
Walker described the promise of the Foxconn complex as turning Wisconsin from a “brain drain to a brain gain”, a theme repeated by the next speaker in the line-up, US House Speaker Paul Ryan, in whose district the Foxconn site sits. Speaking about the long-term promise of the deal and the strong economy in his own state and the US as a whole, Ryan said that “Our best days are ahead of us because of projects like this.”
After Ryan, there was a short interlude where staffers put the presidential seal on the podium, leading the audience to expect the president, but instead followed Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou. Gou praised President Trump for his support of manufacturing, saying “If it were not for you, President Trump, I would not be here today.” Gou noted that over the last 18 months he has talked with the president several times, and “every time I see President Trump, he always says 3 things – jobs, jobs, and jobs”.
Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou at Wisconn Valley Groundbreaking Celebration
Gou noted that this plant would be “the first and only TFT LCD fab in the USA” and praised the people of Wisconsin for their warm spirit and hard work. He said that he was pleased to contribute to the economy in Wisconsin, because “a strong Wisconsin is good for the MidWest, a strong MidWest is good for the USA, and a strong USA is good for the world”.
Finally, President Trump arrived to take the scene, and marveled at the size and scope of the project, with the total manufacturing area exceeding 20 million square feet (2 million square meters). Then the president called to the stage the Japanese CEO of Softbank, Masayoshi Son, whose visit to then-President-elect Trump in Trump Tower in December 2016 formed the genesis of the Foxconn deal.
President Trump with Softbank CEO Masayoshi Son
According to Trump, at the initial meeting Trump thought that Son wanted to invest $50 million in the US, when his real plan was $50 billion. Son stated that he promised that Foxconn would make a big investment in the US without requiring any input from Foxconn CEO Terry Gou “because Terry is my best friend”, to which Trump asked “what about me, Masa?”
Son also praised the 45th president, saying that he “could not have decided for this investment before this president.” Trump praised Son in return, saying that Softbank’s investments exceeded the initial $50 billion and had now reached $72 billion, not including the Foxconn project. Trump also stumped for Governor Walker, praising his role in the project, and said that “America is open for business.”
Trump then turned to the subject of trade, stating that “we are demanding fair and reciprocal trade” and “I have a lot of respect for China, President Xi is a friend of mine, but we want to have a fair and balanced relations” and that the current trade deficit ($375 billion in 2017) must come down. Trump rambled through his justifications for other recent trade actions against Canada, Mexico, and the EU, saying about the euro zone: “If you don’t want our agricultural products, we don’t want your cars.”
After discussing several other political topics such as health care and the upcoming Supreme Court vacancy, Trump closed with a characteristic overstatement of the Foxconn project, calling it “the Eighth, really the Eighth Wonder of the World”. If Foxconn eventually follows through with building a Gen 10.5 LCD plant next to the currently-planned fallback Gen 6 facility, then it may end up being the eighth Gen 10.5 plant in the world, and we may wonder at how Foxconn will manage to compete with the first seven.