The 2018 Wisconsin Real Estate & Economic Outlook Conference concluded with a final panel on the future impact of Foxconn and driverless cars in Wisconsin. Tim Sheehy, President of the Metropolitan Milwaukee Association of Commerce; Matt Moroney, Strategic Economic Initiatives Director of the Wisconsin DOA; and David Noyce, Professor and Chair in Civil and Environmental Engineering at UW-Madison, gave presentations and then answered questions from the audience on both topics.
Sheehy opened with background information on Foxconn, which counts Apple, Amazon, IBM and Google as customers, and makes 40 percent of 3C (consumer electronics, communications, computing) products. He noted that the state’s improved rankings to do business relative to the rest of the country was a big asset in attracting Foxconn to Racine.
“It’s about competing in a global economy, an economy that is changing rapidly,” Sheehy said. “Foxconn is a company buried deeply into these future innovations.”
Moroney noted that construction is already underway at the Foxconn site with 3,000 workers hired. If everything comes to fruition, it will become the largest economic development project in Wisconsin history, with 13,000 employees by 2022.
He compared Foxconn’s potential impact to what BMW has done for the state of South Carolina. “The area I’m most excited about with this project is the supply chain,” Moroney said. “That is where it’s going to ripple across the state.”
Both did acknowledge the state is taking on some risk with money and credits given to Foxconn, but thought that state officials did as best they could to mitigate that risk.
“In a perfect world, nobody would be offering incentives in front of companies,” Sheehy said. “I think the opportunity to bring a company and part of the economy that is not here [to Wisconsin] is something Wisconsin can put a bet on.”
Noyce presented on autonomous vehicles and said that while progress is quickly being made, we are at least 20 years away from a fully automated driving environment. However, the benefits will include increased productivity, reduced congestion, improved mobility for the elderly, disabled and children, and reduced infrastructure cost.
“The whole premise of getting into this technology, beyond the business side, is taking all of us out of the driving environment,” Noyce said. “This is significant to how we’re going to look at transportation in the future.”
Experiments are being done around the Madison area to help shape what the future of driverless cars may look like. The SPaT Challenge on Park St. is trying to demonstrate how roadside technology can communicate with vehicles and make the overall transportation system better.
Exactly what our driving habits and car ownership patterns will be are still up for debate. But Noyce said cities need to start planning and preparing now.
“There are so many ways it could look,” Noyce said. “Everyone could want their own autonomous vehicle. But there are many more probable models that could come about. An Uber/Lyft service model is where the industry thinks we’re likely to end up. We can move more people more efficiently.”