Foxconn’s data center building contributes to Wisconsin’s cool glass orb ecosystem.
This is our newsletter-first column, Microtones. It runs on the site on Fridays, but you can get it in your inbox on Thursdays by signing up for our email newsletter.
The Foxconn Aerials Twitter Account posted a photo this past Sunday of the progress Foxconn has made on its spherical-ish data center building in Mount Pleasant, with the good-natured caption “If you shake it will it snow inside?” Construction crews have finished the steel frame of the great orb. Next, they will cover it in glass panels. As to the data center’s function, Foxconn has offered yet more malleable gibberish about 5G ecosystems and whatnot.
The Taiwanese electronics company’s project in southeastern Wisconsin was a cynical ploy from the start, and the multi-billion dollar incentives package the Republican-controlled State Legislature and former Gov. Scott Walker created for it will hang around our necks for a generation or more. It failed to get Walker re-elected, and may have actually hurt him, but it still functions as a characteristically hollow campaign prop for Donald Trump in a state that could determine the 2020 presidential election.
It’s convenient that Trump and his former rival, now groveling surrogate Walker, can now point to some new evidence of progress there in time for Election Day. Most of the other buildings already built or planned for the unctuously branded “WisConn Valley” campus are low-slung, flat, grim structures, occupying an expanse that local governments kicked people out of their homes to clear. A big glass orb, wildly impractical but indisputably dramatic, is just the kind of shiny object Republicans would want to dangle in front of any undecided voters still susceptible to the Trump brand of persuasion.
And yet, as much as I detest the Foxconn project and want to pulverise everything Republican into dust, I am glad we’re getting an orb. It’s absolutely the most entertaining aspect of the whole endeavor so far, except maybe for the time Foxconn founder Terry Gou declared that he would run for office because a sea goddess told him to. (Admittedly, people living in cultish right-wing theocracies, not to mention cool glass orbs, should not throw stones.) If we get nothing else out of this heinous gamble, we should at least get the orb. Perhaps one day the Wisconsin Historical Society can acquire it and turn it into a Museum of Boondoggles.
Regardless of whether it brings us any sort of economic payoff, the orb offers us an instructive microcosm of the entire Foxconn-Wisconsin ordeal. It’s utterly transparent, yet reveals very little. It’s a garish, glittering bauble in an expanse of rural Wisconsin where the future feels more uncertain than ever. It’s kind of interesting to look at, but most of us can’t really explain what it’s for. And as with all things Foxconn, the plans for it have changed a few times and are subject to change still more, so we really have no idea what goods or services of value will be produced within.
In conclusion: The cool glass orb is our inheritance as Wisconsinites, yours and mine. We paid for it and we should demand its completion. I would like to hang out in the cool glass orb. I am not volunteering for snow-removal duty.
Who has power and what are they doing with it?
Help us create fiercely independent politics coverage that tracks power and policy across Wisconsin and the Madison area.