One of the most important lessons that I have personally learned over the past several years is that being right is not always a reward.
Foxconn, the Taiwanese manufacturing giant, was suppose to build a factory in rural Wisconsin employing 13,000 people, remember? Former Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker moved political heaven and literal earth to make it happen when he seized the land and forced people out of their homes to make way for a factory that was never going to live up to his promises.
It feels like old news at this point because we knew it was never going to work out the way Walker promised. Walker was voted out of office because of it and Foxconn's promises more or less disappeared down the national memory hole as Trump's four-year train wreck continued to dominate every news cycle.
Today's big story from The Verge, however, is all about Foxconn's failure and what it was like to actually "work" for the company in phantom jobs that literally had no responsibilities at all.
You should read the full story for yourself to get a complete picture of just how astoundingly fake the whole enterprise was, but it apparently began with new employees arriving at a vacant office building in Milwaukee with broken elevators.
And I blame myself for not following along more closely in recent weeks (you might say I've had bigger fish to try), but apparently the company has now abandon the idea of building a factory at all.
The scale of the promise was indeed enormous: a $10 billion investment from the Taiwanese electronics giant, a 20 million-square-foot manufacturing complex, and, most importantly, 13,000 jobs.
Which is why new recruits arriving at the 1960s office building Foxconn had purchased in downtown Milwaukee were surprised to discover they had to provide their own office supplies. “One of the largest companies in the world, and you have to bring your own pencil,” an employee recalls wondering. Maybe Foxconn was just moving too fast to be bothered with such details, they thought, as they brought their laptops from home and scavenged pencils left behind by the building’s previous tenants. They listened to the cries of co-workers trapped in the elevators that often broke, noted the water that occasionally leaked from the ceiling, and wondered when the building would be transformed into the gleaming North American headquarters an executive had promised.
The renovations never arrived. Neither did the factory, the tech campus, nor the thousands of jobs. Interviews with 19 employees and dozens of others involved with the project, as well as thousands of pages of public documents, reveal a project that has defaulted on almost every promise. The building Foxconn calls an LCD factory — about 1/20th the size of the original plan — is little more than an empty shell. In September, Foxconn received a permit to change its intended use from manufacturing to storage.
The state government has canceled some of Foxconn's generous, record-setting tax subsidies for the project since the project more or less doesn't exist anymore, but the state and local governments in former House Speaker Paul Ryan's old district have already sunk an enormous amount of money in this dead end.
The Verge reports that the state and local government have already spent $400 million largely on the cost of expanding local infrastructure from the sewer system, to the nearby highway, to the cost of evicting people from their homes. All of that was done in the name of creating space for 13,000 jobs that were never going to happen.
Even among the significantly smaller number of temporary jobs the project did create, conditions were reportedly depressing at best.
Months after the 2018 groundbreaking, the company was racing to hire the 260 people needed to receive the first tranche of payments from the lucrative subsidy package passed by then-Gov. Scott Walker. Recruiters were told to hit the number but given little in the way of job descriptions. Soon, the office began to fill with people who had nothing to do. Many just sat in their cubicles watching Netflix and playing games on their phones. The reality of their situation became impossible to ignore. Multiple employees recall seeing people cry in the office. “The best is when you’re in the elevator with somebody and then they just scream out of nowhere,” said an employee who experienced this several times. “They’ve had enough, because things don’t make sense here.”
“Imagine being in a job where you don’t really know if it’s real or not. Or you know it’s not real, but you don’t know it’s not real. It’s a constant thing you’re doing in your head day after day,” said one employee, who returned to the rented building Trump had spoken at, where workers had been assembling TVs, only to find the line shut down and the lights dimmed a couple of weeks after the photo op was over. “I think all of us were on the verge of a major breakdown.”
Several people who spoke to the Verge about the project said they couldn't believe this could happen in America, but it's all too believable. It was all too predictable as well.
I didn't foresee people people being hired to watch Netflix at the office just to qualify for subsidies, but this was never going to work out the way Republicans promised. These things almost never do.
This whole story feels emblematic of the entire Trump story. Big promises for big business that inevitably collapse and cost everyone else a lot of money.
These are the "businessmen" a lot of Americans think they're voting for.