Apple supplier Foxconn, the world’s largest contract electronics manufacturer, revealed plans today to build a new facility for producing LCD panels in Wisconsin. The news was announced at an event this evening with Foxconn chief Terry Gou and US President Donald Trump, who has aggressively pressured both domestic and foreign corporations to invest in the US. (He has also often taken credit for such investments even when they predated his administration.) Trump was joined at the event by Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker.
Foxconn plans to spend $10 billion over the course of the next three years on the 20,000-square-foot plant, which will employ at least 3,000 employees to start. The Trump administration says Foxconn’s investment could eventually help employ as many as 13,000 people, with potential future facilities in places like Illinois, Indiana, and Michigan. The LCD panels produced at the plant are, to start, for TV maker Sharp. Foxconn’s parent company, Hon Hai, owns a controlling stake in Sharp, which it purchased last year for $3.5 billion. Given that the US is Sharp’s largest market, it makes sense that Foxconn would want to expand manufacturing in the market to cut down on shipping costs.
Trump said Cook promised him three big Apple plants in the US
The announcement comes just one day after Trump boasted in an interview with The Wall Street Journal that Apple CEO Tim Cook promised to build “three big plants, beautiful plants” in the US. It is entirely unclear if Trump, in his interview with the WSJ, was referring to Apple suppliers, like Foxconn, or was referencing other Apple plans. In a strange move, Apple declined to comment when asked about the conversation between Cook and Trump, yet Cook did tell CNBC’s Jim Cramer back in May that Apple was starting a $1 billion fund to promote domestic manufacturing.
Apple notably built a Texas factory for producing the painfully out-of-date Mac Pro desktop, and the fate of the facility remains up in the air. Bloomberg reported in December 2016 that Apple could move production of future Mac desktop models, whatever form they end up taking, back to Asia, but the new $1 billion investment fund and this Foxconn announcement suggest the iPhone maker could reap the benefits of domestic manufacturing without having to actually build and operate more of its own facilities. However, as it stands today, there are no plans for Apple to tap Foxconn for domestic manufacturing that we know of. Apple was not immediately available for comment on whether Foxconn’s investment will in any way impact iPhone production or the production of any other Apple product.
Foxconn is starting with LCD panels, and may never build iPhones for Apple in the US
Foxconn employs around 1.3 million people worldwide and is instrumental in building the iPhone and many other big-name brands’ products. The company, although its headquartered in Taiwan, operates mainly out of China. Yet Foxconn has toyed with a US manufacturing investment in the past. In 2013, Gou said Foxconn was contemplating investing around $40 million in Pennsylvania, but the facility was never built. A year later, Gou announced publicly that his company was looking into display manufacturing in the US to cut costs on shipping TV screens from Asia.
Now, with the Wisconsin deal in place, Foxconn looks like its finally ready to make that happen. “We are thrilled to build a state-of-the art display fabrication plant in America’s heartland, which will be the first of a series of facilities we are building in several US states,” Gou said in a statement. “We thank President Trump and Governor Walker for their work to bring Foxconn to Wisconsin. Wisconsin offers a talented, hardworking workforce, and a long track record in advanced manufacturing, all of which presents an extraordinary opportunity.”