Vos: Foxconn will be a benefit, not a threat, to Illinois

Wisconsin and Illinois have a healthy rivalry that often comes to a head with our sports teams. While it's hard for us to understand why anyone would cheer for the Chicago Bears when you have the Green Bay Packers, our states should set aside our differences to support a massive project that will make the Midwest the epicenter for cutting-edge technology.

If you haven't heard, Foxconn, the Taiwanese electronics giant, is building the world's largest manufacturing campus roughly 70 miles north of Chicago. Wisconsin won the worldwide competition for the $10 billion investment, but Illinois stands to benefit, too. For example, Foxconn announced a partnership with Advocate Aurora Health to incorporate technological innovations into health care. However, when we see Illinois government officials passing resolutions opposing Foxconn, it's obvious that the real facts need to be understood and political posturing cast aside, especially when it comes to the environment.

When Wisconsin lawmakers approved the Foxconn legislation, we not only required compliance with all the state and federal air and water quality standards, we actually strengthened environmental protections. In the project zone, for every one acre of wetlands used in construction, two have to be created as close to the construction site as possible. However, my research found that Illinois only replaces wetlands for certain projects; in Wisconsin, it's required for all projects. In addition, any worries about flooding downstream should be put at ease. The nonpartisan Southeastern Wisconsin Regional Planning Commission has determined the proposed stormwater management system would actually help maintain or decrease runoff in the Des Plaines River watershed.

Illinois politicians concerned about air quality should focus on their own state's issues. Chicagoland is the main contributor to air pollution in the Tri-state area, responsible for more than three-quarters of the emissions. Wisconsin has actually cut emissions of nitrogen oxides and volatile organic compounds by 50 percent since 2002. Still, the Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources is requiring Foxconn to employ the best available pollution-control technology to ensure that number can be even better. In addition, Foxconn had to prove that emissions from its facilities would not violate air quality standards in order for the project to move forward.

Another unnecessary concern is over water quality and supply. Foxconn is investing in an innovative and environmentally friendly water system that will recycle the water used in manufacturing, which will nearly eliminate the return of any manufacturing processing water into Lake Michigan. Because of this new technology, Foxconn's daily water usage will be reduced to a mere 2.5 million gallons per day.

To put this into perspective, Chicago is allowed to use 2.1 billion gallons per day. It's interesting that a 2014 study found Illinois loses roughly 60 million gallons a day to leaking pipes, water main breaks and aging infrastructure. When you take that into account, Foxconn would use less than five percent of what Illinois leaks in a day.

Understandably, jealousy could be the driving force behind the false rhetoric. Wisconsin is ranked No. 3 for quality of life by U.S. News and World Report and has six of the most livable cities according to AARP. Our unemployment rate is lower than Illinois', our budget has a surplus and our pension system is fully-funded. Now Foxconn is projected to add $51 billion to Wisconsin's GDP and create 13,000 direct jobs, equal in size to a top Illinois employer.

The Foxconn project is already making a positive impact in communities across our state and will likely have a positive effect on bordering communities and beyond. So, before anyone criticizes the neighbor to the north and accepts false, politically-motivated rhetoric, I invite you to read up on the Foxconn facts. If you've grown tired of this negativity or your high-taxed, budget-strapped state, I would also like to invite you to be like Foxconn and choose Wisconsin to be your home. If you do, some of us won't even mind if you're a Bears fan.

Republican Robin J. Vos is speaker of the Wisconsin State Assembly.

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