Take another look at Foxconn

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Obviously, the deal is shaping up differently than Wisconsin expected.

THIS ONE SEEMS like a no-brainer: If Foxconn can change its plans away from what had been negotiated and promised with Wisconsin state government officials, then Wisconsin ought to be able to make adjustments, too.

Foxconn did not meet its target employment numbers for 2018, a shortfall that cost the Chinese company nearly $10 million in state incentives.

Then, last week, Foxconn announced a major change - reneging on its promise to create a workforce for manufacturing high-tech screens for televisions and other uses, instead planning to create a "technology hub" populated mostly with researchers. Foxconn said the switch was necessitated by market changes, and the company still plans to create 13,000 jobs eventually - jobs that are tied to up to $4 billion in taxpayer incentives.

MAYBE THEY WILL, maybe they won't. Just a few months in, Foxconn's wavering record provides ample reason to wonder if the company's word is good.

Mind you, we are not accusing Foxconn of maliciously pulling a bait-and-switch on Wisconsin taxpayers. It's too early for that. Market changes are real and can force companies to adjust on the fly. And, as former Gov. Scott Walker tweeted last week, tax incentives are structured in a way that Foxconn won't get them unless the company fulfills contractual obligations.

On the other hand, the whole project was sold on the basis of bringing back manufacturing to Wisconsin and America. That matters, too, particularly for blue-collar workers who had hoped for jobs.

Wisconsin's new governor, Tony Evers, ran for office in part on the claim that he didn't like certain elements of the Foxconn deal negotiated by his predecessor, Walker. Those in the deal's-a-deal camp wanted to block Evers from trying to reopen arrangements between Foxconn and the state. In our view, that argument now falls flat. If Foxconn isn't keeping its end of the bargain, why shouldn't Wisconsin put issues back on the table? Like, for example, environmentally sensitive waivers.

WISCONSIN WANTS GROWTH and Foxconn may still be a pretty good bet. Partners need to work well together and accommodate flexibility when it is called for and preserves benefits.

But that's a two-way street. Evers should be allowed a crack at the negotiating table.

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