19 November 2020

The Verge: “Inside Foxconn’s empty buildings, empty factories, and empty promises in Wisconsin”

Foxconn’s Wisconsin saga began two days after Trump’s inauguration, when the company’s founder and CEO, Terry Gou, told reporters he was considering building a $7 billion factory in the US and employing as many as 50,000 people.

Such announcements are far from unusual for Gou, and often, nothing comes of them. In Vietnam in 2007, in Brazil in 2011, in Pennsylvania in 2013, and in Indonesia in 2014, Foxconn announced enormous factories that either fell far short of promises or never appeared. Just this year, the industries minister of Maharashtra, India, which aggressively pursued one of Gou’s multibillion-dollar projects in 2015, finally confirmed the factory isn’t coming, saying the state had learned a lesson about believing businesses promising big investments.

In China, where Foxconn employs the vast majority of its million workers, these sorts of announcements are called “state visit projects”, according to Willy Shih, a Harvard business school professor and former display industry consultant. Officials get a ribbon-cutting photo op, the company gets political goodwill, and everyone understands that the details of the contract are just an opening bid by a company that will ultimately do whatever makes economic sense.

Josh Dzieza

Every step of the way, this story reminded me of how our economy used to function during Communist times, right down to the visits from party leadership and ribbon-cutting ceremonies. A propaganda machine designed to hide the dysfunctional state economy that ultimately collapsed with a bang. Which makes me wonder: how much of the Chinese economy is built on a similar system of smoke and mirrors? How much of its success is based on state sponsorship and exporting to the West?

Foxconn Wisconsin The Globe
The Globe: initially meant to be a network operation center for a complex of data centers spelling out “Fii” from the air that was never built. The most recent plan is for the sphere to be an office and event space.

Perhaps sensing all was not well, Lee ordered everyone to watch the documentary American Factory, about a Chinese automotive glass company that buys a shuttered GM plant in Dayton, Ohio. But employees watched the film — in which hopes for a manufacturing resurgence in the Midwest founder amid culture clashes and differing labor standards, Chinese supervisors explain that Americans are lazy and need to be flattered (Donkeys like being touched in the direction their hair grows), and in which American management is eventually fired and replaced with Chinese leadership — with the dawning horror of recognition.

We were like, Oh my god. That’s exactly what’s occurring at Foxconn, said an employee. This is not a good thing. This is bad! But he couldn’t tell.

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