Community hopes Microsoft will be Racine County’s comeback story - TAI News
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Microsoft logo is screened on a mobile phone for illustration photo. Krakow, Poland on April 9th, 2024. (Photo by Beata Zawrzel/NurPhoto via AP)

In 2017, Taiwanese technology manufacturer Foxconn announced it wanted to build a massive TV screen manufacturing plant in Mount Pleasant. It promised a $10 billion investment to create 13,000 jobs and a sprawling campus in the town about 30 miles south of Milwaukee. Homes and farms were bought and bulldozed to make way for development.

Seven years later, however, the company has fallen short on its promises. There are only a few buildings on the 1,200 acre property, and only about 1,000 workers, who aren’t making TV screens after all. Racine County residents call the project a disappointment.

But the community is feeling hopeful again after Microsoft announced it would be moving into the community. The company is investing $3.3 billion to build a datacenter on land once meant for Foxconn, promising to bring in 2,000 union construction jobs through 2026 and to make southeast Wisconsin an economic technological hub.

“I hope it’s more successful,” retired teacher Jean Ann Schuerman said. “We need something in Racine or Mount Pleasant.”

President Joe Biden visited Racine County on May 8 to unveil the new investment with Microsoft leaders and Gov. Tony Evers. In October, the White House designated Wisconsin as one of 31 Regional Tech Hubs around the country, which Evers said helped spur the Microsoft development.

“This is a watershed moment for Wisconsin and a critical part of our work to build a 21st-century workforce and economy in the Badger State,” Evers said in a statement. “Microsoft is a blue-chip corporation that recognizes the strength of Wisconsin’s workers, infrastructure, economy and our quality of life. Microsoft has chosen to locate and invest here because they know the future is here in Wisconsin.”

While the community still feels distrustful after Foxconn failed to follow through on its promises, residents say they think this project is the real deal, partly because of Microsoft’s efforts to be a good neighbor.

Part of Microsoft’s investment includes a partnership with the Green Bay Packers, known as TitletownTech, to establish an AI Co-Innovation Lab at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. The lab will help connect manufacturers and businesses around the state with Microsoft’s AI experts and developers, and is one of only seven facilities around the globe. It has the capability to equip more than 100,000 Wisconsinites with AI skills, Evers’ office said.

At Gateway Technical College, where Biden spoke during his visit, Microsoft will also open a Datacenter Academy to train workers who will eventually work at the datacenter. Nonprofit group United Way of Racine County is also partnering with Microsoft to create a fund that will connect under-resourced communities in the area to technology.

The tech company has also teamed up with the Root-Pike Watershed Initiative to restore the Lamparek Creek. The creek, a tributary of the Pike River which feeds Lake Michigan and runs through the development, has been “used and abused” for decades, Dave Giordano, Root-Pike WIN executive director, said.

“We had been working with Foxconn to try and get them to do a little bit more than the status quo with their site. And while we were close, it never really happened. It took a couple of years for us to get really close. With Microsoft, it took about two meetings and they were on board,” he said.

Restoring the creek will not only improve water quality for the area, but the group hopes it will also bring the brook trout back to the creek. Giordano said he hopes the creek will one day be a place where the public wants to spend time at.

“When you have clean water you have a sense of place. People want to work there, they want to live here, they want to invest there, they want to play there,” he said. “And Microsoft gets that. They know that it’s not just a building that you go to work to. It’s a place that’s part of the community and not this separate piece of land within the community.”

Businesses and commercial lots with for-sale signs out front are a common sight while driving through Racine County. Schuerman, who lives in Racine, said she mainly shops in Kenosha because it’s been more developed and has more options.

The community has felt the personal ripples of the Foxconn development. Schuerman said one of her friends had to sell their hobby farm to make way for the project, destroying a lot of beautiful land. “It kind of seemed almost like a hostile takeover,” Kenosha resident Mark Judson said. “Like, ‘We’re coming in. We’re going to take people’s houses.’ Which they did.”

But the community hopes the ripples they feel this time around are of more jobs and economic growth in the area because of Microsoft.

“It is going to have positive impacts. This whole southeastern Wisconsin will see a positive impact. We need more growth,” said resident Kim Beckett.

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