Taiwanese tech giant Foxconn is building a huge factory on the west end of Racine County. But the corporation’s spotlight on Tuesday was 10 miles to the east: the city of Racine. Foxconn announced that it will be building a smart city innovation center downtown, near the lakefront.
Locals, state officials and Foxconn representatives came together in front of number 1 Main Street in Racine. Foxconn official Alan Yeung spoke first, announcing that Foxconn Technology Group had purchased the three-story, 46,000-square-foot building, and that it had big intentions for the smart city innovation center.
"This building will encompass a state-of-the-art coworking space," he said. "But also it will become a model for smart-city pilot programs that will take advantage of and leverage all of the technologies that Foxconn will build and enable in Wisconsin."
Yeung said that the structure, christened Foxconn Place Racine, will house 125 employees. The smart city concept is using tech to look for better ways for cities to operate and solve problems.
He also noted some may be curious why the tech company is building a hub in the city of Racine, when its $10 billion Foxconn campus will be a mere 10 miles away in rural Mount Pleasant. For that, Yeung had a simple answer: “It is kind of difficult to build a smart city without a city.”
Racine Mayor Cory Mason elaborated a bit about what using Foxconn’s technology to make Racine a smart city actually means. “So, this center will allow us to develop technologies to apply here in the city to improve lives of our residents, around workability, livability, equity and sustainability," he said. "There’s more to come in the weeks to come about what, exactly, that means, but I think people are going to be very surprised and impressed by what we have ahead of us.”
Later, Mason explained that the city already has some smart city technology elements that helps with its public safety and public works functions. “How the street lights talk to each other, how the police department uses video," he said. "That’s sort of the foundation for the smart city infrastructure that we have already.”
He says there’s an enormous breadth of things to take on with the smart city concept. One person looking for solutions in a specific area is State Rep. Greta Neubauer (D-Racine). She hopes Foxconn technology can help the city with transportation.
“I’m really hoping that this conversation encompasses bussing in the city that allows people to get where they need to go in a reasonable amount of time and is not a last resort option but is peoples’ choice," she explained. "I think we’re also hoping that the conversation about light rail and rapid transit, high-speed rail, that conversation comes back and we start thinking about how to connect our area here to the surrounding region.”
Racine Police Chief Art Howell was also present at the announcement. He’s just happy to see additional jobs and opportunities bring economic development to the city.
“There will be some development jobs, and so obviously there’s going to be a skill set that’s required, but we’re just excited about infusing economic development," he said. "The business vendors down here, the restaurants, we’re just excited about what is to come later.”
Foxconn’s announcement of establishing a smart city innovation center in Racine comes at the heels of several other announcements in recent months, including $1 million Smart City, Smart Future initiative, where the company will partner with public and private universities and tech colleges.
The company has also purchased buildings in Milwaukee, Green Bay and Eau Claire to use as headquarters or innovation hubs.