If Foxconn Technology Corp. builds a multibillion-dollar “smart factory” in southeastern Wisconsin, it could mean the equivalent of creating an industrial complex not seen since the heydays of A.O. Smith and Allis-Chalmers.
At their peak in the last century, each of the legendary Milwaukee-area industrial behemoths employed 10,000 workers or more.
Neither of their campuses exist any longer. And neither do the sort of rank-and-file lunch pail jobs that those titans once championed.
Foxconn is expected to require troops of high-end systems engineers who can operate robots, artificial intelligence and state-of-the-art automation systems.
If a Foxconn deal moves ahead, the region would need to move with Manhattan Project-like urgency to mount a come-from-behind retraining and recruitment campaign for automation-savvy workers, according to a consensus of workforce experts. Southeastern Wisconsin already labors under such an acute shortage of digital-age workers that incumbent manufacturers often cannot find qualified candidates.
True, Wisconsin doesn’t have the workers to fill these jobs. They would have to move to Wisconsin or a good number of Wisconsinites would have to retrain. Either way, it would be a boon for the state and undoubtedly launch thousands of other satellite and support businesses. One would hope that with Trump, Priebus, Ryan, and Walker all pushing for it, Wisconsin stands a pretty decent shot.