The impact the planned Foxconn manufacturing campus will have on area government, politics and infrastructure was the focus of a forum hosted Wednesday by Carthage College.
More than 200 people attended the event, which featured seven panelists including Kenosha Mayor John Antaramian and Racine County Executive Jonathan Delagrave.
“I am thrilled to have Foxconn in Racine (County),” Antaramian said. “I think it works very well for us.”
Antaramian said Kenosha County will be able to reap the benefits of Foxconn without the risk. “The issue before most municipalities now is what happens next,” Antaramian said. “How does this impact us and how do we respond to that impact?”
Antaramian said the city will pursue slow growth, quality development and projects that lead to good-paying jobs.
“The city isn’t going to be willing to give a great deal to companies coming in,” Antaramian said. State levy limit controls will make budgeting more difficult for local governments as development puts stress on local infrastructure and public service, he said.
“Under the levy limits, it makes it almost impossible for me to provide the services I need to provide,” Antaramian said.
He said he anticipates Somers will have the ability to provide the most housing to fill an expected shortage. Increased population will affect schools and other units of governments as well, he said.
Antaramian and Kate Gillogly, an associate professor of geography and anthropology at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside, said they support the development of a Regional Transportation Authority to improve public transportation.
“Without an RTA, you are not going to have the funding to make this work,” Antaramian said.
Gillogly said it is a hardship for students and workers to maintain a car. Public transportation would not only help people get to school and work, it would be better for the environment, she said.
“This could be a big opportunity for us,” Gillogly said. “This region has long needed an RTA and a good public transportation system. We need to make this happen.”
Delagrave said Racine County is forming a task force to work with the state Department of Transportation and the Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission on the issue of public transportation. The first of what is expected to be a series of six or seven meetings on the issue is March 22.
Ed Montanaro, associate professor of modern languages and economics at Carthage College, ran down a list of “reasonable expectations” people should have given the experience in other areas of the county when large-scale growth occurs.
“We should expect the plant will be in operation before off-site infrastructure is in place,” he said, adding it will cause noticeable, annoying but temporary transportation congestion. “It will take a few years to correct.”
Montanaro said this will create new private economic opportunities. New homes, stores, restaurants and other service providers will come to the area, all of which “will require public infrastructure improvements that will not be covered by Foxconn or by state government.”
“Making sure the businesses profiting from those developments pay the full cost of their impacts, rather than dumping them on taxpayers, is going to represent a significant challenge for local elected officials,” Montanaro said.
He said the smaller governments will “experience a fairly painful adaptive process” as they find the need to expand police and emergency services, hire full-time legal counsel and create or expand planning departments.
“They will probably resist these additional expenditures until it becomes obvious that the cost of not doing certain things is higher than the cost of actually doing them,” Montanaro said. “In this process, there will probably be a lot of turnover among the elected officials. So, if you’ve ever thought about running for local government, there are going to be a lot of opportunities.”
Montanaro said the costs and benefits of Foxconn will not be shared equally.
“Some governments will bear costs disproportionate to their benefits and others will enjoy benefits without bearing much of the cost,” he said. “Intergovernmental conflict will almost certainly increase.”
He suggested the creation of an Intergovernmental Relations Council to mediate some of the conflicts.
Terrance Warthen, co-chair of Our Wisconsin Revolution, defined by its membership as an independent organization that aims to take Wisconsin government back from corporate elites, said he was pleased to see the turnout at the meeting and encouraged people to continue to stay involved.
“Foxconn looked at the map and they saw division and opportunity,” Warthen said. “That’s their job. It’s not personal, but you need to take that insult personally.”
He said people need to find nonpartisan common ground to make sure workers’ rights are protected and Foxconn provides the “living wage they promised.”
Somers resident Penny Johansen, who lives on Highway KR, was unhappy that none of the Somers Village Board members were present at the meeting.
“I live directly across from the construction staging area,” Johansen said. “This was our place of peace. It’s not going to be that anymore and I’m pissed.”
Warthen suggested she and her neighbors hold their elected officials accountable and exercise their right to vote.
If you go
“Foxconn in Wisconsin and Beyond”
What: Discussion on broad trends in the statewide and international economy that the Foxconn plant is part of, and on the likely benefits and costs for Wisconsin in bringing Foxconn here.
When: 4 to 5:30 p.m. March 21
Where: Carthage College Todd Wehr Center, room 128
Parking: Available in the South Upper, South Lower, and North parking lots. Shuttle service will be available.