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Governor Walker tours Wisconsin by air to tout Foxconn agreement

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Foxconn CEO Terry Gou, Gov. Scott Walker celebrating memorandum of understanding for new manufacturing campus in Wisconsin

MADISON — With an aggressive timeline to turn dirt before next fall’s election, Gov. Scott Walker took to the air Friday to tout global electronics giant Foxconn’s plans to invest $10 billion on a new manufacturing facility in southeast Wisconsin.

The airplane tour is taking Walker far from where the factory three times the size of the Pentagon is to be located. It allows him to make the case that the entire state would benefit from a plant that could employ 13,000 people.

Walker’s tour was taking him to La Crosse, Eau Claire, Wausau and Appleton.

The deal Walker signed Thursday with Foxconn CEO Terry Gou calls for a final agreement — including the Legislature’s passage of a $3 billion tax incentive package — to be done by Sept. 30. Walker said he will call the GOP-controlled Legislature into a special session in August to pass the bill, which has yet to be introduced.

“That’s somewhat aggressive for a project that big,” said lobbyist Bill McCoshen, who helped negotiate economic development deals in Gov. Tommy Thompson’s administration. The deep bipartisan support will help ease its passage, McCoshen said.

“It’s huge but it’s not unusual,” he said of the bipartisan backing. “Economic development typically is very bipartisan.”

Democratic U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin attended President Donald Trump’s White House announcement of the deal on Wednesday and two-time Walker challenger Democratic Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett praised it at a signing event on Thursday. Other Democratic lawmakers have spoken in support.

The plant would be the first outside of Asia to produce liquid crystal display monitors used in computers, televisions and other areas. Walker calls it a once-a-generation opportunity to transform Wisconsin’s economy.

The envisioned plant, expected to open in 2020, would be 20 million square feet on a campus that spans 1.56-square-miles in what Walker is calling the “Wisconn Valley.” It would initially employ 3,000 people, but the deal calls for that to grow to 13,000 within six years.

An exact location has not been determined, but Foxconn is looking at sights in Racine and Kenosha counties.

Liberal activist Scot Ross, head of One Wisconsin Now, has been one of the harshest critics of the $3 billion tax break deal. The incentives would only be paid if Foxconn makes the promised investments and creates the jobs, and the money could be recouped if jobs are lost.

“Gov. Walker has to some explaining to do to taxpayers in every corner of the state who will foot the bill for this deal on the Illinois border,” Ross said.

One of the harshest critics within the Legislature is Democratic state Sen. Dave Hansen, who represents Green Bay. He said moving quickly on the $3 billion incentive package would be “a serious case of legislative malpractice.”

Hansen expressed concerns that Foxconn would replace jobs at the plant with robots, as it has done at other facilities.

“Before the governor and legislators mortgage the future of Wisconsin taxpayers, possibly for decades, they should think very carefully about the long-term needs of the state rather than their own re-election,” Hansen said.

A group of four Republican lawmakers from northeast Wisconsin pushed back against Hansen’s claims on Friday, calling it “beyond appalling” and “insane.”

“One need look no further than the shipyards and foundries in Marinette or the paper manufacturers scattered throughout the area to see that our area’s economy thrives on manufacturing,” said state Rep. John Nygren, co-chair of the Legislature’s budget committee.

Rep. David Steffen, of Green Bay, said there will be countless economic benefits across the state. Walker’s administration has estimated that there will be 22,000 other new jobs in construction and other associated fields thanks to the project.

“To think that someone would actively cheer against this type of economic growth is insane,” Steffen said.