The Foxconn-UW Deal: how it affects campus

UW and Foxconn executives tour student research panels at the Wisconsin State Capitol on April 11, 2018. 

Image By: Jeff Miller

The University of Wisconsin–Madison announced on Friday a new research collaboration with Foxconn Technology Group worth $100 million dollars. The partnership, which still requires a passing vote by the Board of Regents, has Foxconn investing in the university to develop a science and technology institute that will work closely with the company’s planned manufacturing facilities in southeast Wisconsin.

The new research facility, called the Foxconn Institute for Research in Science and Technology (FIRST) will primarily be located at the Wisconn Valley Science & Technology Park in Racine as well as having a secondary location in Madison.

UW–Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank emphasized the strength of the university as a research institution: “My main message was there is a world-class university in Madison, Wisconsin,” Blank told the Wisconsin State Journal. “There are many ways in which we can help them do their work even better.”

While technical colleges are already creating advanced manufacturing programs to train workers for the new Foxconn location, the new research facility will focus on subjects like biochips, application-specific integrated circuits, smart infrastructure and city development, cloud server storage, sensors and robotics in an effort to develop and improve new technologies.

“The Foxconn Institute for Research in Science and Technology will provide funding on practical topics and capabilities in core areas that will become increasingly invaluable to the advanced technology hub, along with the artificial intelligence, 8K resolution and 5G wireless technology ecosystem that we are building in Wisconsin,” said Gou.

Foxconn has also indicated interested in medical imaging technology, a topic UW–Madison also has a wealth of experience with in the Carbone Cancer Center. In fact, Foxconn and its CEO have donated to National Taiwan University’s cancer center, which is led by UW–Madison alumnus Dr. Ann-Lii Cheng. Dr. Cheng is a friend and colleague of Dr. Howard Bailey, who currently runs the Carbone Cancer Center.

Bailey previously met with Foxconn officials on July 11th to discuss future collaborations, a university spokesperson said. Dr. Cheng also toured UW–Madison with Gou earlier this year.

“They have a strong interest in imaging devices and we have a very, very strong group in that area,” Blank said. “The opportunities for research collaborations with the medical school and the engineering school are very strong.”

Details for the new Foxconn location involve a $3 billion incentive signed by Gov. Walker. The company promises an investment of up to $10 billion in the plant and creation of up to 13,000 jobs with it.

However, reports in June indicated that the first Foxconn factory will be much smaller than originally expected. The factory, which will be used to carve display panels out of ultra-thin glass, is part of the first phase of Foxconn’s plans in Wisconsin.

The second stage, the company states, will include a much larger factory focused on developing larger liquid crystal display (LCD) panels. Though the first factory will be much smaller than initially projected, the company reinforced their commitment to the full $10 billion it originally pledged, as well as contributing thousands of jobs with a target average annual wage of $53,875.

The facility once fully constructed is expected to use an average of 5.8 million gallons of water per day to cool the production lines involved with producing LCD panels. The city of Racine recently gained approval to divert the water from Lake Michigan.

Earth moving has already begun at the new location, dubbed Wisconn Valley Science and Technology Park by Foxconn, and a seven-story headquarters building has been purchased in Milwaukee where the company says more than 500 people will work.

The partnership signals Foxconn’s growing investment in the Wisconsin economy, while continuing their consistent drive to develop new technologies with the help of academia.

“Our collaboration will bring together some of the world’s leading scientists, physicians and engineers to drive advances in technology and science while fostering the talent pipeline that will help build Wisconsin’s future,” said Blank. “This is the type of work that accelerates discovery so that life-changing innovations can move more quickly from the lab into the workplace – creating jobs and helping drive Wisconsin’s economy.”

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