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Foxconn's Alan Yeung highlights Mitchell airport traffic boost, autonomous vehicle tech at GMC meeting

Milwaukee Business Journal - Patrick Leary

Jun 11, 2018

Director of U.S. strategic innovations for Foxconn, Alan Yeung (standing), speaks at the June 11 Greater Milwaukee Committee luncheon alongside Ryan Green (left), the vice president and chief marketing officer for Southwest Airlines, and Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele (right).

Regardless of what the actual size and employment of Foxconn Technology Group's massive headquarters in Mount Pleasant end up being, transportation to and from the facility via the Interstate 94 corridor will play an undeniably vital role.

In that context, Foxconn's director of U.S. strategic initiatives Alan Yeung discussed Foxconn's relationship with General Mitchell International Airport and I-94 at Monday's monthly Greater Milwaukee Committee meeting. Yeung, who joined GMC earlier this year, frequently emphasized keeping Milwaukee's airport affordable as a primary way to ensure its viability for the Taiwanese tech giant and the general public alike.

"Why would you fly out of Milwaukee?" Yeung posited to the audience. "It has to be accessible, it has to be low cost, and it has to serve the kind of value proposition that we see there every day, but we can exaggerate and actually emphasize that more."

With Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele and Southwest Airlines chief marketing officer Ryan Green on stage next to him, Yeung discussed the impacts Foxconn projects would have on Mitchell airport, including an uptick in business travel. He also made reference to Milwaukee's advantages when compared with regional rival airports like Chicago's Midway International Airport and O'Hare International Airport.

"I would say my success rate of not getting delayed or canceled at O'Hare has been around 25 to 50 percent. I remember one time I was there for about 18 hours," Yeung said. "I've never been stranded here in Milwaukee, so this is a great place to be."

Yeung felt Southwest Airlines, which developed from a small Texas-based airline in the early 1970s into the United States' most flown domestic airline, mirrors Foxconn's growth. He also sees Southwest's growth and viability as a representation of what Foxconn wants for Wisconsin.

"I think the state of Wisconsin is in the same space, and I think General Mitchell airport is a microcosm of that," Yeung said. "Our state is very healthy, financially and fiscally. This is one of the reasons why we're here as an investor and a partner."

Beyond passenger airlines, Yeung emphasized the role that cargo aircraft will play for Foxconn through Mitchell.

"I think we may offer opportunity for long haul flying in from Asia Pacific," he said. "There will be components of systems that will be coming into Wisconsin, and some of that might be by sea, by freight, by train and by land, but quite a bit of that will be by air."

As far as getting to the airport, Yeung said that improving I-94 will be vital for the region's success. He claimed that with Foxconn's arrival and the surrounding investment from other businesses in the area, every mile of the so-called I-94 corridor will see $1 billion of investment "in the next few years."

"(We need to) strengthen I-94 to make sure that if we want to get on a plane in Milwaukee, it doesn't take more than a few minutes and not an hour-and-a-half to get there," Yeung said. "It's a really great asset to have Milwaukee airport only 5 miles from downtown. And for those of us from Racine and our site, I think it should make sense to be able to get there quickly and cost effectively."

Other potential upgrades to I-94 could include paving the way for autonomous vehicle technology, a topic Foxconn executives have broached previously at various forums. Yeung mentioned University of Wisconsin-Madison, his alma mater, as a site for testing the technology and said autonomous vehicles could be used to transport both freight and people to and from the airport and Foxconn's campus.

"All that would dovetail into what we talk about with smart cities and smart future initiatives," Yeung said. "The next step for us really is going back to the authorities and the municipalities and convey the interest, framework and excitement to get there." Making General Mitchell and overall transportation along the corridor easy and affordable remains the top priority for Yeung and Foxconn.

"In a nutshell, we want it to be very cost effective and we want it to be approachable and convenient for us to go to Mitchell and fly out," he said.

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