By Joe Schulz | Wisconsin Public Radio
Foxconn Technology Group is looking to sell two properties that were once meant to become “innovation centers,” employing hundreds of people.
After Foxconn announced plans to build a manufacturing facility in the village of Mount Pleasant, the company pledged to expand across the state with innovation centers in Madison, Milwaukee, Green Bay, Eau Claire and Racine.
At the time, the company said each innovation center would employ between 100 and 200 people, with the Milwaukee center employing around 500 people. But those plans were essentially put on hold in 2019.
Now, Foxconn says it’s turning its focus to the “ongoing business activities” in its Science and Technology Park in Mount Pleasant, rather than innovation centers.
The company’s properties in Green Bay and Eau Claire have been listed for sale, almost five years after the company paid nearly $12 million to purchase both. In a statement, Foxconn said selling its Green Bay property, known as the Watermark building, will add to the vibrancy of the city’s downtown. It did not comment on the Eau Claire listing, nor did the company provide information on its plans for its other properties outside of Mount Pleasant.
According to the Green Bay Press-Gazette, three of the Watermark’s six floors are in use, two of the first-floor retail spaces are occupied and two are vacant. Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich said on social media he hopes a potential sale will “lead to better utilization of a fantastic waterfront building.”
Jeff Mirkes, executive director of Downtown Green Bay, shared similar sentiments. Had Foxconn’s plans for an innovation center progressed, he said it would have had a positive impact on downtown Green Bay.
“Without a doubt, we take a look at what could have been, but in business — large and small — businesses always deviate from their plans,” he said. “We had a worldwide pandemic that also may have contributed to some of the changes in their business plans. We really want to look ahead to the potential because there is so much potential for this property.”
Mirkes said the Watermark’s position near the Fox River and the CityDeck riverfront boardwalk makes it an attractive property for potential developers. He also said it’s possible, if not probable, that the building could find a new life in time for the 2025 NFL Draft in Green Bay, which is expected to draw hundreds of thousands of people to Wisconsin.
“I’m confident that a quality developer with the capital and a plan can implement a resurgence for the property,” he said.
In Eau Claire, Community Development Director Aaron White said Foxconn owned about 15,000 square feet in a mixed-use property, known as Haymarket Landing. He said Foxconn’s portion of the building has been vacant for years, and the potential sale opens the door to new development.
“The innovation center concept really would have been a really nice addition to downtown, bringing some job and technical opportunities that would have fit very well for the area,” he said. “With that not moving forward, making sure that space is in the hands of a developer or an owner who will actively engage in filling it, managing it, maintaining it and keeping it full is definitely the best case for the city.”
At its flagship facility in Mount Pleasant, Foxconn now produces data servers and devices for solar arrays that convert energy generated into usable electricity.
Earlier this year, Foxconn announced a partnership with We Energies to build a 2,000-panel solar array in Mount Pleasant. In May, Microsoft closed on a $50 million land purchase on property originally intended for Foxconn’s Mount Pleasant development, which will be used to build a $1 billion data center.
Foxconn says it has invested over $1 billion in Wisconsin and created approximately 1,000 jobs. Initially, it promised to hire 13,000 people and produce large flat-screens.
The company’s contract with the state was scaled back by Gov. Tony Evers, after the 2017 pact signed by former Gov. Scott Walker would have given Foxconn nearly $3 billion in state tax credits. The new deal offers up to $80 million for 1,454 jobs created by 2024.
Foxconn’s production of devices for solar arrays, known as microinverters, was disclosed in a financial report from California-based Enphase Energy last month. Enphase listed Foxconn as one of its manufacturing partners producing microinverters.
In a statement, Fooming Fu, president of Foxconn Industrial Internet USA, said producing clean energy solutions in Wisconsin aligns with the company’s commitment to sustainability throughout its global operations.
“This new partnership with Enphase also creates the opportunity for additional growth in Wisconsin, as Foxconn continues to meet customer demands that can succeed in the United States,” Fu said.