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Foxconn secretary

Wisconsin Department of Administration Secretary Ellen Nowak speaks Thursday afternoon in the Columbia County Administration Building to an audience of about 25, on the various ways in which Foxconn's location of its North American headquarters in Racine County is likely to have an economic impact statewide.

A Taiwanese company is making a $10 billion investment in Wisconsin, and there’s no reason why some of that money can’t trickle into Columbia County.

That was one key takeaway Thursday for about 25 people who came to the Columbia County Administration Building to hear Wisconsin Department of Administration Secretary Ellen Nowak talk about the economic impact of Foxconn Technology Corp.

Foxconn will receive up to $4 billion in state subsidies to help pay for the construction of a campus of manufacturing facilities in Racine County — with the pledge to create 13,000 new jobs, not counting the jobs created by related construction and infrastructure projects.

“It’s not just everything happening in Racine County,” said Nowak, whose appearance Thursday was facilitated by the Columbia County Economic Development Corp.

The statewide impact of Foxconn already is apparent, Nowak said, not only in the construction now going on in the Racine County village of Mount Pleasant, but also in the acquisition and remodeling of the former Northwestern Mutual building in downtown Milwaukee to create the company’s North American headquarters, and the $100 million gift to the University of Wisconsin-Madison to create the Foxconn Institute for Research in Science and Technology.

In Racine County, the company intends to manufacture small high-resolution screens for electronic devices such as cell phones, tablets and automotive systems. The jobs to be created at the manufacturing firm are expected to pay an average salary of about $53,000 per year, Nowak said.

But it’s not too soon, she said, for companies that want to provide products or services to Foxconn to get their names and credentials out to the company — mainly by signing up online for notifications of bids being sought.

Mark Holmes and Rick Sasse of the Portage manufacturing firm TriEnda said they intend to do just that.

When the manufacturing at Foxconn begins sometime in 2020, the company likely will need custom packaging, such as trays and reusable component packaging, said Holmes, TriEnda’s custom sales manager.

Sasse, TriEnda custom sales associate, said it’s too early now to know exactly what kinds of products Foxconn might need, or whether TriEnda can provide them.

“But there’s plenty of opportunity,” he said.

“We’re making sure we get started now, in the early stage of the process,” Holmes added.

If TriEnda succeeds in landing a contract for Foxconn work, it’s possible the factory in Portage’s industrial park, which they said employs 250 people, could need even more workers.

Steve Sobiek, the city’s director of business development and planning, said all the potential Foxconn jobs pose a challenge for those seeking workers.

“As someone who works in economic development, I am concerned about the number of workers Foxconn might take out of this region, even if it’s small,” Sobiek said.

Nowak said employers across Wisconsin, and Foxconn officials, share the concern about the available workforce.

Foxconn is addressing that concern by reaching out to other states, and even U.S. military bases all over the world, to attract workers wishing to settle in Wisconsin — including alumni of Wisconsin colleges and universities, recently discharged veterans and military personnel anticipating their discharges.

Mayor Rick Dodd said Portage already is taking steps to ensure young people attain the skills that are in demand in workplaces. For example, students as young as middle school age in the Portage Community School District are exposed to skills such as welding.

As Foxconn establishes itself, other Wisconsin communities with strong manufacturing — such as Portage — will have jobs to offer workers with the right skills who are willing to live and work in Wisconsin, Sobiek said.

The main thing to do, Nowak said, is to start exploring Foxconn-related opportunities now.

“This is going to be on a scale like we’ve never seen before,” she said.

Follow Lyn Jerde on Twitter @LynJerde or contact her at 608-745-3587.

Portage Daily Register Reporter