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Looking to Build Workforce Ahead of Foxconn; Discontent at Board Meeting

A labor management expert is recommending the pursuit of a a multi-faceted approach to make sure that Foxconn—should it come to fruition—and other area manufacturing firms are able to find the workers they need.

Rebekah Kowalski of Manpower was one of the keynote speakers at a brain-storming session held at UW-Parkside Monday. 

Any strategy, she said, should include a campaign to retrain workers who are already here, and a push to bring in outsiders. "It's not just about getting the people in," Kowalski said. "It's about rapid re-skilling and rapid retooling of the talent that we have," she said, adding: And if we don't do that we'll miss the mark." 

Other ways to expand the pool of available workers is to embrace automation and retrain laid-off workers, and launch a campaign to rein in workers who currently commute to Illinois. 

The conference included representatives of area colleges and universities, economic development agencies and other groups.

Lt. Gov. Rebecca Kleefisch, another keynote speaker, urged those in attendance to work collaboratively and not in "silos." 

Foxconn has yet to formally unveil its preferred site, but an area in Mt. Pleasant south of Highway 11 and east of I-94 is widely viewed as the target.  

The uncertainty is weighing on landowners within the area. 

Property owner Shannon Hilbert told the village board Monday night that she hopes that the owners will be fairly compensated if they're forced to leave. "I know a lot of people are excited for this new chapter," she said. "But please do not forget the cost for families that have to relocate. They're not only losing the houses that we spent many years making a home. But we're losing our neighbors, our neighborhood with people who have become family," Hilbert said as her voice started to quiver.

Village President Dave DeGroot said he wasn't in a position yet to answer landowners' questions, but that everyone wants to get the information out as quickly as possible.

The village board has had numerous closed sessions on Foxconn, with another one scheduled for Wednesday afternoon. 

Said board member Gary Feest: "My hope is that my fears will be unfounded. Stay tuned, cross your fingers and let's hope that everything works for the best interests of not just Mt. Pleasant but residents." 

Trustee Ken Otwaska chimed in with a response to questions about whether Foxconn is coming. "I don't know for sure," he said. "That's all I can say."

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