‘Tremendous opportunities’
Business leaders talk Foxconn at WCBA panel discussion

By Cara Spoto - Freeman Staff

May 23, 2018

 Area business leaders working on Foxconn discussed the project Tuesday during a panel discussion held by the Waukesha County Business Alliance at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Brookfield. Speakers seen here from left are Todd Taves, senior municipal adviser with Ehlers & Associates; Sarah Justus, director of construction for American Transmission Co.; Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce; and Bill Mielke, CEO of Waukesha-based Ruekert & Mielke.
Cara Spoto/Freeman Staff

BROOKFIELD — As site preparation begins on the $10 billion Foxconn manufacturing complex in Mount Pleasant, companies across southeastern Wisconsin are wondering how the sprawling display-screen factory might impact their industries.

On Tuesday the Waukesha County Business Alliance strove to answer that question with a panel discussion featuring business leaders already working on the project.

During the roughly one-hour discussion at Embassy Suites, two messages emerged. The first was that the project — the single largest foreign investment in United State history — is changing the way business is being done across the state. The second was there are plenty of opportunities for local companies interested in doing business with Foxconn or having a role in the construction of the 22-million-square-foot manufacturing complex.

“Foxconn is anticipated to have a $1.4 billion annual spend in Wisconsin. That is not the total spend. That is what we anticipate will happen in Wisconsin,” said Tim Sheehy, president of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce. “There is going to be tremendous opportunities on the construction side, and we are just beginning to talk about the plant operations.”
 

Becoming a supplier

As a first step, Sheehy urged area companies eager to work with Foxconn to get on a state-managed list of interested suppliers by registering at Wisupplychainmarketplace.com. As the project progresses, he also suggested that businessmen and women reach out to contacts who may already be doing business with the Taiwanese-based technology giant.

“Foxconn does not have a supply base in the United States. Their supply base is in China and Taiwan. They are going to bring a big chunk of those suppliers here, but they are going to start to learn that there are companies in southeastern Wisconsin that are somewhere in their supply chain,” Sheehy said.

“Don’t get discouraged. Their business model is changing. Their industry is changing.”

For those interested in being part of the plant construction, the opportunities already abound, he added.

“Someone told me the other day that there are 1,000 trucks a day delivering gravel to that site. So if you’ve got a truck with four wheels you are in the game,” he said.

Tim Casey, director of economic development for the Waukesha County Center for Growth, was the moderator for the discussion. Mark Hogan, secretary & CEO for the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation, also spoke, as did Waukesha County Executive Paul Farrow and Suzanne Kelley, president & CEO of the Waukesha County Business Alliance.
 

Impact

Speaking to the Foxconn project’s impact, Sarah Justus, director of construction for American Transmission Company, which is constructing a electrical substation for the plant, said the speed at which the project is progressing has resulted in ATC having to take what would normally be a four-to-seven year timeframe for such a project and cut it half.

“(We have) been doing things concurrently that we are used to sequentially,” Justus said of the Pewaukee-based ATC. “That is the only way that we are able to do this. Not only are we working weekends, but we are working Taiwan-time.”

Todd Taves, senior municipal advisor with Ehlers & Associates in Waukesha, talked about his work helping to establish the 6.5-square-mile tax increment finance district that will help pay the debt on the project.

“Everything about this project, as you can imagine, is big,” Taves said. “Something changes on this project literally every day, sometimes every couple of hours, and I think for a professional services firm the biggest challenge is that you really have to have a team of people that you can allocate, and make this their focus and priority.”

Bill Mielke, CEO of Waukesha-based Ruekert & Mielke, which has been contracted by the Racine Water Utility to plan, design and manage the construction of the $130 million in water mains needed to supply the plant with Lake Michigan water, said his firm has been focusing on breaking the job up into smaller projects so that it can be bid out to area companies.

“It is going to keep the underground contractors very, very busy for the next five years,” Mielke said.

Companies seeking more information on the Foxconn project can visit www.wisconnvalley.wi.gov, where they can also sign up to get updates.

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