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Ray Allen

Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development Secretary Ray Allen addresses the Baraboo Kiwanis Club on Tuesday at the Barn Restaurant.

Wisconsin’s employment outlook is bright and only will improve with Foxconn’s arrival, the state’s labor secretary said Tuesday in an address to the Baraboo Kiwanis Club.

Department of Workforce Development Secretary Ray Allen touted the state’s record-low unemployment rate, which in July was 2.9 percent. It’s been lower than 3 percent for six straight months, following a 2017 that saw the fewest unemployment claims in 30 years. Sauk County’s 2.3 percent unemployment rate ranks among the state’s lowest.

“We’re in a good place in Wisconsin,” Allen told 20 Kiwanians during their weekly lunch meeting at the Barn Restaurant.

Allen said 15,000 manufacturing jobs have been created in the state this year, and 9,000 jobs were created last month. More will come as Foxconn Technology Group builds a high-tech factory near Racine. Allen estimated the facility will create 13,000 jobs directly, plus 10,000 construction jobs as the $10 billion campus goes up. The Taiwanese company will make flat screens for Apple, Google and Amazon devices at the factory.

“We were in competition with the rest of the world,” Allen said. “This is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to grow the state.”

He predicted Wisconsin will enjoy a significant return on its investment in Foxconn. The state offered $3.3 billion in tax incentives to lure the company’s first factory outside of Asia to Wisconsin. When coupled with municipalities’ incentives, the total cost for taxpayers could reach $4.5 billion, the largest tax break offered to a foreign company in U.S. history.

On Monday, the company pledged to give the University of Wisconsin-Madison $100 million for engineering and innovation research.

“At Foxconn, we see our role as not only being a major investor in Wisconsin, but also a long-term partner to the community,” Foxconn CEO Terry Gou said.

Allen compared the Foxconn plant to Epic Systems, the electronic health records company that recruits employees nationally to work at its sprawling Verona campus.

“It’s a unique venture for us,” Allen said. Landing high-tech firms could reverse the “brain drain” Wisconsin suffers when its college graduates take jobs in other states, he said. “People are attracted to opportunity,” Allen said.

During a June groundbreaking ceremony, President Donald Trump called the campus “the eighth wonder of the world.” Gov. Scott Walker predicted Foxconn will transform Wisconsin the same way Microsoft changed Washington state. “This will make us a brain-gain state, not a brain-drain state,” Walker said.

Meanwhile, Allen said his department is working directly with universities to keep bright minds home. Allen said DWD is encouraging internship programs that increase the chances a college graduate will stay in Wisconsin by 75 percent. He said it’s time for the state to capitalize on its private colleges and the UW System as recruitment and retention tools.

“They bring people to the state from out of state. Our goal is to keep them in the state,” Allen said.

High schools and middle schools also play a role in strengthening the workforce, Allen said. His department is fostering apprenticeship programs that allow students to explore careers in plumbing, welding and other trades that don’t require college degrees.

“What you need is a skill set,” he said. “There are a lot of jobs that are family-sustaining.”

The Wisconsin State Journal contributed to this report.

Baraboo News Republic Senior Reporter