Wisconsin hits a rough patch in effort to build a tech economy

President Donald Trump, left, speaks as Foxconn CEO Terry Gou, right, and U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) watch at the groundbreaking for the Foxconn Technology Group in June. Andy Manis/Getty Images

In a bid for jobs for the people of Wisconsin, state officials opened the treasury to lure Foxconn, the Taiwanese supplier to Apple, to the state.

Wisconsin pledged $3 billion to land the plant, under construction now in Mount Pleasant. The locals tossed in another $764 million.

There’s a problem, the Wall Street Journal reports today. There’s a labor shortage, so Foxconn intends to bring Chinese workers to Wisconsin to help fill the 13,000 jobs the company promised to provide.

Other employers in the area are increasing wages and perks to keep Foxconn from poaching their workers, WSJ said.

“All the technical schools and local universities are gearing up their programs, but I still think Foxconn is going to fall short in terms of finding the people they need. They’re going to have to recruit from outside the area,” said Loretta Olson, who owns an Express Employment Professionals staffing office in Racine, Wis.

Foxconn Chairman Terry Gou is looking to company engineers in China to transfer, according to people familiar with the matter. Some engineers have expressed reluctance to relocate to Wisconsin, which is less well-known to Chinese workers than U.S. tech hubs in California or New York.

One engineer who declined to give his name said he wouldn’t want to move to a place he worried could be as cold as Harbin, a northern Chinese city known as “Ice City.”

Racine County isn’t particularly diverse. More than 80% of the population is white, and less than 2% is of Asian origin, according to the Census Bureau.

Mr. Gou is upset that few Chinese workers have volunteered to move to Wisconsin if called upon, people familiar with the matter said. It is unclear how many the firm is looking to transfer.

Work on the plant is likely to slow in the winter, picking up again in the spring, meaning the company isn’t yet hurrying to transfer engineers from China.

The company may scale back plans for the plant if it can’t find enough workers.

The situation is an example of the challenge of growing an economy outside traditional areas.

“It’s like, Racine, really?” said Willy Shih, a professor at Harvard Business School.

The area is two hours away from the state’s flagship university, a potential source of the talent a company like Foxconn needs.

More: Who comes out ahead in the Foxconn deal? (MPR News)