Plans are beginning to take shape for Foxconn in Racine County. The Department of Transportation recently held an open house to answer questions about road construction in order to make way for the Taiwanese firm’s huge LCD screen factory. One piece of the puzzle yet to fall into place is how to get many potential workers to the jobs.
Last week, dozens of people packed into a couple of rooms at the Mount Pleasant Village Hall to look over road construction plans. The DOT is making changes along I-94, while also improving access roads around Foxconn's manufacturing campus.
Project manager Brett Wallace says the work will be a huge undertaking, with some of it beginning next month. “We’ve got six roadways, four local roads and two state roads that DOT is reconstructing and expanding to meet the requirements of the development that’s occurring."
Nancy Eggert of Mount Pleasant looked over the blueprints at the meeting and says she’s concerned that with Foxconn's arrival, the landscape won’t be as aesthetically pleasing as it is now. Currently the site, just off the freeway at Highway 11, is rural property with farmland nearby.
“I think it’s going to be just wall to wall trucks once this gets going, just driving from Milwaukee down to Chicago, I think it will be a lot less pleasant trip,” Eggert says.
But, some people think when it comes to transportation, the focus shouldn’t just be on the roads themselves. They want more attention paid to getting workers to the potential 13,000 jobs that will be available – especially people in Milwaukee who are unemployed. Many don't have cars, so they would need a bus system that would take them to the plant.
Democrats like state Rep. David Crowley of Milwaukee have pushed state planners for a solution since last summer. “I’m really concerned about those who are unemployed or underemployed and their ability to get to Foxconn. What are we doing to make sure that there’s a public transportation infrastructure so they can get to these jobs?”
Crowley spoke at a public hearing as the state's $3 billion Foxconn incentives package worked its way through the Legislature. During the debates in Madison, Gov. Walker’s administration promised talk about transporting workers to jobs would take place.
Workforce Development Secretary Ray Allen told WUWM that discussions were in the preliminary stages. “You’re going to see an investment from our department and the DOT in providing transportation options for individuals to move to and from where the jobs are,” Allen said.
Months later, Allen insists that’s still the case. He says he’s committed to “helping underserved populations, including those in Milwaukee" overcome barriers to work, such as transportation to jobs. Allen says his department continues to talk with local, regional and state partners as well as Foxconn.
But, at least one Milwaukee official is backing an unusual solution. Ald. Bob Bauman recently suggested the city annex land near Mount Pleasant, and move some Milwaukee residents to Racine County so they can work at the factory. Bauman told a Common Council committee that the city could pursue the idea if buses or other transportation plans don’t come to fruition.
“We provide some public transit infrastructure to get folks to Mount Pleasant and back, or if there’s no public transit then maybe we just move folks to Mount Pleasant, and basically develop some land for residential or commercial use and we create a satellite city,” he said.
Bauman’s proposal likely won’t go anywhere. It would need the approval of the Common Council, Town of Yorkville and Racine County leaders. And, Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave says the idea is neither practical, nor in the public interest.
Any decisions about finding ways for Milwaukee workers to get to Foxconn jobs will have to be made soon. While it'll take at least a couple years for Foxconn's full campus to open, the company says it will start training workers for assembly jobs next year.