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Racine County residents are skeptical of Biden's jobs pledge after Trump's fell short


Earlier this month, President Biden visited Racine County, just south of Milwaukee. About 200,000 people live there, and many recently heard Biden vow during his visit to secure new jobs for the area. But some residents remember another big jobs pledge that fell short during the Trump administration. Those promises may matter in a year when the two men are once again competing for votes in the swing state of Wisconsin. Chuck Quirmbach of member station WUWM reports.

CHUCK QUIRMBACH, BYLINE: Racine County along Lake Michigan has a long history in manufacturing. For decades, this area has witnessed strong investments, but residents have also felt the economic pain of layoffs when companies scale back. Joe McCloskey, who runs a small trucking company, says he's hoping things turn around.

JOE MCCLOSKEY: They had all those big manufacturers here, and they keep pulling everything out. So it'd be nice to see some industrial coming back to Racine.

QUIRMBACH: In this year's election, McCloskey is backing former President Donald Trump. While in office, Trump thought he had a solution to the loss of manufacturing jobs. In 2017, he announced Foxconn, a Taiwan-based technology company, would build its first U.S. manufacturing facility in Racine County. The Republican called it a great day for American workers.


DONALD TRUMP: And for everyone who believes in the concept and the label made in the USA.

QUIRMBACH: Trump and Wisconsin GOP leaders promised that with the help of about $3 billion in state incentives, Foxconn's plant in Mount Pleasant could eventually employ 13,000 people. But changes happened along the way. Foxconn downsized its deal with the state and now employs about 1,000 people here. Large growth seems out of the question. Now as President Biden tries to win Wisconsin again, he won't let Trump forget that pledge.


PRESIDENT JOE BIDEN: Foxconn turned out to be just that - a con. Go figure.

QUIRMBACH: That's Biden campaigning in Racine County this month, as the Democrat joined Microsoft officials to announce that the U.S.-based tech giant intends to spend more than $3 billion in the area. During the next few years, they plan to expand already announced data centers focusing on AI. Microsoft says it will lead to 2,000 new jobs. Biden also said that 2,300 union members will do the construction on roughly two square miles of property, partly on land formerly reserved for Foxconn. Building is already underway.


QUIRMBACH: The crew operates a pile driver near a data center that's going up. Nearby residents welcome the construction jobs, but some wonder about Microsoft's longer-term plan. Trump supporter Rick Legois runs a machine shop. He says he's both hopeful and cautious.

RICK LEGOIS: But of course, you know, when you're in business, you know, you can have all the forecasts you want, and things change. So, you know, you have good intentions, but it doesn't always work out. So there's that, too.

QUIRMBACH: Legois works in Sturtevant, a mostly white, Republican-leaning town not far from where Biden visited. Four years ago, Trump won Racine County by about four percentage points, but Biden picked up the city of Racine, a Democratic stronghold. About a quarter of the city's population is Black, according to census estimates, and Biden met with some of those voters, including Maggie Cobb. She says she has faith in his jobs pledge. But even then, Cobb, who was worried about high poverty in local Black neighborhoods, says she wants to see measurable progress.

MAGGIE COBB: As they say, show me. You can talk the talk, but you got to walk the walk - economic development not only for the community in itself, but for the individuals that live in this community.

QUIRMBACH: Individuals like Banche Booker, who also met with Biden and is leaning toward voting for him. The longtime certified nursing assistant says she was too busy with work and raising her children to have paid much attention to Foxconn. Recently, though, she's taking a career skills program. She hopes it will lead to a new job, maybe even at Microsoft.

BANCHE BOOKER: I'm not against it. Why not? You know, I'm doing the program, so you never know where it might land me.

QUIRMBACH: As local residents hope this year's jobs promises turn into real results.

For NPR News, I'm Chuck Quirmbach in Racine County, Wis.

(SOUNDBITE OF RENE AUBRY SONG, "WATER FALLS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Chuck Quirmbach
Chuck Quirmbach joined WUWM in August, 2018, as Innovation Reporter, covering developments in science, health and business.