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Foxconn's decision to reconsider Wisconsin plant pleases a lone holdout

Trump had hailed Foxconn’s promise to hire 13,000 workers. Now the company says it may build a smaller facility and hire mostly engineers and researchers rather than blue-collar workers.
Kim and James Mahoney outside their Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin home.
Kim and James Mahoney outside their home in Mount Pleasant, Wisconsin.Kevin J. Miyazaki / Redux

There were 13 homes in the Wisconsin subdivision when Kimberly Mahoney and her family moved into their dream house two years ago, totally unaware that they were setting down roots on land where Taiwanese electronics-manufacturing giant Foxconn would soon plan to build a $10 billion campus.

“Now it’s just us and our neighbors left, and they are moving out this weekend,” Mahoney told NBC News on Wednesday. “The rest of my neighbors were bullied and intimated enough to sell … My daughter had friends across the street to play with and now it’s just us.”

Now, news that Foxconn is reconsidering plans to manufacture advance liquid-crystal display panels at the plant — and possibly shrink the footprint of the facility in the town of Mt. Pleasant — has raised Mahoney’s hopes that her family might not have to abandon the ranch house with the stone fireplace and gray granite countertops that she and her husband hoped to grow old in.

“Our lawyer says they still want our property, and we’re supposed to meet with Mt. Pleasant officials next month,” Mahoney said. “But what’s going to happen? It’s hard to speculate anymore on anything because we can’t believe anything they say.”

A top Foxconn official, Louis Woo, sent shock waves through Wisconsin and elsewhere in the U.S. when he told Reuters on Wednesday that the company is rethinking its plans and now intends to hire mostly engineers and researchers rather than blue-collar workers to build display panels on the site.

President Donald Trump had hailed Foxconn’s promise to hire 13,000 workers as proof of his prowess at reviving American manufacturing by luring foreign-based companies. Foxconn was also championed by former Gov. Scott Walker, a Republican who helped secure $4 billion in tax breaks for the company.

And both Trump and Walker wielded shovels at the groundbreaking in June, although Democrats maintained the deal was a massive corporate giveaway that would not produce the promised jobs.

“This deal was reckless from the beginning,” Martha Laning, chair of the Democratic Party of Wisconsin, said after the Reuters story hit. “Despite multiple red flags throughout the negotiation process, Wisconsin Republicans put taxpayers on the line for $4.5 billion and rewrote the entire rule book for an election-year talking point.”

A Trump administration official said Wednesday that the president “has created one of the strongest business climates in American history” by lowering taxes and cutting regulations, but seemed to admit that any downgrading of the deal would be disheartening.

“While it’s encouraging Foxconn will bring 13,000 new jobs and billions of dollars to Wisconsin, we would be disappointed by [any] reductions to the initial investment," the official said.

There was no immediate response from Walker. Maureen Murphy, the Mt. Pleasant village administrator, did not return an email from NBC News seeking more information. Walker tweeted Wednesday that “Foxconn earns state tax credits based on actual investment and job creation. No jobs/investment? No credits. Period.”

But in a statement, Foxconn said it remained committed to creating 13,000 jobs in Wisconsin but that “the global market environment that existed when the project was first announced has changed.”

“As our plans are driven by those of our customers, this has necessitated the adjustment of plans for all projects, including Wisconsin,” it said.

Woo, in the Reuters story, said it was simply too expensive to build advanced TV screens in Wisconsin because the salaries were too high.

Mahoney, 49, said that three months after she and her husband and their daughter Reese moved into their home in 2017 they began hearing the rumors that Foxconn wanted to build on their property.

“We were like, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me’,” she said. “We just moved in.”

Mahoney said Mt. Pleasant used eminent domain powers to push out their neighbors and they fought back with lawsuits.

“We felt the one and only offer they made to us was not enough to make us move,” she said. “So they said they’re going to declare it blighted. Our property is not blighted.”

Last June, the Mahoneys scored a small victory when Mt. Pleasant, which had been threatening to close the road leading to their development, decided not to do so.

Otherwise, Mahoney said, Mt. Pleasant has pretty much left them alone while construction went on around them.

“They built a 120,000 square foot warehouse building that’s already up and they are using that,” Mahoney said. “They have moved millions of yards of dirt and gravel and demolished every house that was in the way of that. A lot of the work has already been done to prepare for this facility.”

That includes sewer lines and new roads, she said.

“I don’t know what happens now,” Mahoney said. But she said not having a manufacturing plant next door would not be a bad thing for her family.

“We won’t have all the pollution,” she said.