Dems gripe as Trump touts Wisconsin’s Foxconn as ‘eighth wonder of the world’
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MOUNT PLEASANT, Wis. — President Donald Trump broke ground Thursday on a new Foxconn plant in Wisconsin less than 20 miles north of the Illinois border, a massive and controversial project championed by Trump that has drawn the ire of environmental groups and top Illinois Democrats.
“This is magnitude like nobody’s ever seen. This is just the absolute beginning. … It’ll get much bigger,” Trump said in front of a backdrop emblazoned with icons declaring “USA: Open for Business.”
“Eighteen months ago this was a field, and now it’s one of the most advanced places you’ll see,” he said, dubbing the new plant “the eighth wonder of the world.”
The 20 million-square-foot Foxconn factory will manufacture liquid crystal display (LCD screen) panels, the bread and butter of the information tech giant that counts Apple among its clients across the globe.
Foxconn is planning to pump up to $10 billion in the plant by the time it is completed in two years. Officials say it will create 13,000 jobs at an average salary of $54,000 per year. About 70 percent of the jobs will require advanced degrees, with the remaining 30 percent considered “basic-skills.” Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker also said it will create more than 20,000 “indirect or induced” jobs.
“Just look at the victories we’ve had,” Trump said.
But critics note the huge investment came at a cost of about $4.5 billion in state and local tax incentives — not to mention the millions of gallons the plant will suck out of the Lake Michigan watershed.
Hours after the groundbreaking, three Illinois Democrats, Senators Tammy Duckworth and Dick Durbin, along with Rep. Brad Schneider, released a letter calling on the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to review the Foxconn development, saying it could compound problems in flood-prone Lake County.
“Wisconsin is allowing Foxconn to fill up to 26 acres of wetlands that flow into the Des Plaines River Watershed to convert them for industrial use by the development,” the letter read. “Neither Foxconn nor the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources have sufficiently studied the environmental impacts of the loss of those wetlands or offered suitable solutions to mitigate flooding in Illinois communities downstream.”
Their letter came weeks after Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan threatened to sue the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, saying the EPA is giving Foxconn a break on smog standards in Racine County, even though air pollution in Racine County already exceeds government standards.
“We’ll have regulation, but you’ll be able get things approved quickly. Or disapproved quickly,” Trump said Thursday. “We have clean air. We have crystal clean water.”
Gold shovel in hand, Trump was joined by House Speaker Paul Ryan — whose congressional district includes the village of Mount Pleasant where the new plant is being built — and Foxconn chairman Terry Gou at the off-site groundbreaking before the president spoke at an already-completed Foxconn building.
Trump was quick to stray from prepared remarks during his 30-minute speech, riffing on arch-nemesis Hillary Clinton and her “terrible” trade deal with South Korea, and slamming the “one senator who decided to put his thumb down” last summer on his administration’s initial attempt to repeal the Affordable Care Act, referring to ailing U.S. Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.).
The trumpeting of the massive Foxconn investment took place about a 20-minute drive down Interstate 94 from the Milwaukee headquarters of Harley-Davidson, a day after the president tore into the company on Twitter for moving some production overseas in response to tariffs imposed by the European Union.
“And don’t forget: Harley-Davidson, please build those beautiful motorcycles in the USA. Don’t get cute with us,” Trump said Thursday. “They don’t realize the taxes are coming down… Their customers won’t be happy if they don’t [stay].
“We’ve put tariffs on steel and aluminum,” Trump said. “Those businesses are through the roof. I want to level out the playing field. Frankly the smart people love it. Some people don’t understand it. But we’re going to be treated fairly.”
Trump laid on football analogies in the heart of Green Bay Packer country, declaring it was “like I handed the football off” to Foxconn chairman Terry Gou, “and he ran for 2,000 yards.” While introducing Trump, Gou talked about getting his “first break as a businessman” in Chicago while working for the television manufacturer Zenith in the 1970s.
Before the event, hundreds of Foxconn employees and distributors from around the world ooh-ed and ah-ed their way through a series of product displays that would look at home on set of a science-fiction movie, including ultra-high-definition televisions spanning more than 50 feet, virtual-reality displays encased in glass and graphic stock footage highlighting micro-tools used in eye surgery. Guests were also treated to hors d’oeuvres served by a robotic tray wheeling around the room.
Trump had stayed overnight in Milwaukee for a series of private GOP fundraising events, and was met by protesters down the street from his downtown hotel, according to press pool reports. Demonstrators weren’t able to get close to the groundbreaking, but about 200 marched to Mount Pleasant Village Hall a few miles away.
“They’re taking away the beauty of our land, and taking away the essence of it,” 20-year-old protester Kesha Patel said.
Trump said he was heading back to Washington Thursday night to consider his nomination for outgoing U.S. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy.
“We’re gonna pick ourselves one great United States Supreme Court Justice. I’m so honored that he decided to do this during our term.”