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Former Foxconn executive writes book about Wisconsin project: 'We're not going to apologize for trying hard'

Alan Yeung
Posted at 3:05 PM, Mar 09, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-09 19:36:02-05

In the summer of 2018, President Donald Trump traveled to Mount Pleasant for a ground-breaking ceremony with high hopes. The president had called Foxconn's plans for Wisconsin the "eighth wonder of the world."

But even as the project was getting started, it was already coming under heavy scrutiny.

Charles Benson: "Why did Foxconn end up in Wisconsin?"

Alan Yeung: "Well, I think the primary reason was Governor Walker and his administration."

Alan Yeung
Alan Yeung and former Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker

Former Foxconn executive Alan Yeung was a key player for the project and worked behind the scenes on the deal. He has written a book titled Flying Eagle, the nickname for the Wisconsin project.

Alan Yeung
Alan Yeung's book Flying Eagle

Benson: "So what would you say to people, if they read the book, what would they learn, who are saying Foxconn failed in Wisconsin?"

Yeung: "I think that's a wrong perspective. It might not have actually worked the way the original plan had been intended. But so far I think with the investment made by the company, the local community in the state, and also the federal government, it is a good thing."

Yueng's story begins in Hong Kong where he grew up with one goal in mind. "I always wanted to go to the United States to study. So when I was 17 I got accepted to UW-Madison, and I came here as a chemical engineering major."

Alan Yeung
Alan Yeung in his youth.

That degree, along with a PhD and MBA in California and a career that stretched from Silicon Valley to the China region, would eventually lead him back to Wisconsin for the biggest challenge of his life.

A challenge that began long before Foxconn's ambition to invest in America.

Yeung's book begins with a dinner conversation a decade ago between President Barack Obama and Apple's Steve Jobs.

The story goes that President Obama wanted to know why millions of iPhones and iPads were manufactured overseas when Obama asked Jobs one defining question.

"'Why can't those job come back?' Steve Jobs was very direct: 'Those jobs are never going to come back.'" said Yeung.

Yueng says the push to bring high tech jobs back to America changed for Foxconn when Donald Trump became President.

Trump and Foxconn's Chairman Terry Gou started talking and Wisconsin, with Governor Scott Walker, quickly became a front runner for the project.

The former Foxconn executive believed in the company's vision and he believed this would be a chance to do what Apple's Steve Jobs reportedly said was not possible.

"We were trying to create a technical hub and we're trying to build innovation, entrepreneurship and actually encourage others to come to co-invest with us," said Yeung.

Foxconn's plan was to invest in America. The world's biggest electronics manufacturer is known for assembling Apple's iPhones overseas.

In Wisconsin, Foxconn signed a deal to specifically build flat panel display screens for TVs in a massive manufacturing facility with cutting edge technology.

The state agreed to pay nearly $3 billion in tax credits if Foxconn created 13,000 jobs and invested $10 billion.

Benson: "Why do you think that part of it did not happen?"

Yeung: "Well, I think there are a few factors involved. One of them is the market conditions had changed. By the same token, I think the business environment in Wisconsin had changed a little bit."

The change included Foxconn losing its biggest supporter of the project when Tony Evers beat Scott Walker in 2018. Evers was not a fan of the state's financial deal because of the enormous cost to taxpayers.

To keep Foxconn in Wisconsin, Evers' team pushed for an amended agreement to reflect a much smaller, scaled-back project.

The new deal went from a $10 billion investment from Foxconn to $672 million, and 13,000 jobs to 1,450.

Alan Yeung
Alan Yeung and Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers

But even after Yeung left Foxconn to start his own consulting business in Wisconsin, he still sees promise in the project.

Benson: "Would you say Foxconn over-promised?"

Yeung: "I think we can use Thomas Edison as an example. Thomas Edison tried 100 times and he only found one time for the light bulb to work. We had a lot of ideas, great vision. I think we tried. And there are many things that we actually succeeded. If you don't aim high, you'll never get there. I think we're not going to apologize for trying hard."

Foxconn says its investment in Wisconsin totals $1 billion and next year the company will pay at least $30 million in property taxes to Racine County.

In 2020, the state says Foxconn invested $266 million and created 579 jobs at its Mount Pleasant by assembling servers at its manufacturing facility to get qualified for nearly $30 million in tax credits from Wisconsin.

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