Wednesday, May 8, 2024

Microsoft Racine County data center expansion, new AI training focus of Biden visit to state

From JSOnline:

Karl Ebert
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Microsoft plans a  major expansion of artificial intelligence education and job training programs in southeast Wisconsin, along with a huge increase in its plans for a data center complex now under construction in Mount Pleasant.

Microsoft Corp. President Brad Smith will be joined by President Joe Biden in Racine County on Wednesday to highlight Microsoft's moves, which build upon the company's previous investments in the state.

Smith will announce a significant acceleration of the Mount Pleasant data center project, including a large increase of its value compared to the $1.4 billion it pledged when it bought more than 1,000 acres in the village's Wisconsin Innovation Park late last year.

The project is expected to bring 2,000 union construction jobs to the area by the end of this year.

Worker and business artificial intelligence training promised

He also will announce details of a multimillion-dollar investor in worker and business training partnerships that involve upskilling for non-traditional workers, a data center technician training program, and programs to provide business leaders and their technical and engineering teams with training to help them understand and effectively adopt AI and other emerging technology. Smith said the company hopes to provide training to 100,000 workers.

The jobs and training programs are tied to the construction of Microsoft's massive data center, the company's TitletownTech partnership with the Green Bay Packers, the company's involvement with the University of Wisconsin's Connected Systems Institute and technical education programs that Microsoft has supported in northeastern Wisconsin and Milwaukee.

"This builds on everything we've been doing for the last more than five years in Green Bay," Smith said in an interview on Tuesday.

"It builds on what we've been doing with the Connected Systems Institute at UW-Milwaukee. It builds on what I regard as a partnership that is unique ‒ the partnership between Microsoft and the Green Bay Packers. You know, it's just to me a fascinating example of how you can be more ambitious in the future if you've built a strong foundation."

Efforts focus on "the AI economy"

The jobs and training programs aim to bolster Wisconsin business and workers' participation in "the AI economy," with a multi-pronged approach that will open opportunities for students, workers in need of new skills, business leaders and others. The package of programs will be unique to Wisconsin with a focus on strengthening and building the state's manufacturing base.

"Wisconsin was settled and and founded in many ways, based on advances in manufacturing, and this is about making Wisconsin a global leader in manufacturing for the next three decades," Smith said.

Construction of the first Microsoft data center progresses Wednesday in Mount Pleasant. Microsoft has pledged a minimum value of $1.4 billion on the first phase of its development in the village's Wisconsin Innovation Park.

More:We Energies plans $335 million investment to power to Microsoft's Mount Pleasant data centers

Biden to contrast Microsoft growth with criticism on U.S. economy

Biden will speak in Racine County near the business park where Microsoft now owns nearly 2 square miles of developable land, most of which had been controlled by Foxconn International Holdings and held in reserve for what was to be a massive large-screen LCD manufacturing complex that was to create 13,000 jobs.

Biden is expected to tout the fast growth of Microsoft's plans for the Mount Pleasant data center and its commitment to business and workforce development as a prime example of the success of his economic growth and future-facing job creation policies.

The focus on Microsoft could allow Biden to draw a distinction between the speed with which the Microsoft development is coming together compared with the unfulfilled promise of its neighbor, Foxconn, which former President Donald Trump dubbed "the eighth wonder of the world" at a 2017 groundbreaking.

Trump so far made two campaign stops in Wisconsin this year. At both, he claimed Biden's policies caused inflation and have in general been bad for the country.

The message Biden is expected to deliver would parallel those made during previous stops in Wisconsin by the president and other administration officials other to highlight progress in the administration's "Investing in America" initiative, a package of bills passed in late 2021 and early 2022 that aims to encourage investments in domestic manufacturing and infrastructure, accelerate the nation's transition to clean energy, and create new, well-paying jobs.

Those messages aim to build support for Biden at a time when a recent Marquette University Law School poll found Wisconsin voters consider likely GOP nominee Trump better than Biden on the economy by a 52-34 margin.

More:Microsoft president: Wisconsin a 'really important state' for the tech giant. Here's why

More than building a data center, Microsoft aims to transform a state economy

Microsoft's first data center building is under construction and expected to open in 2026, and plans outlining three others have been submitted to the village. In all, the company owns nearly 2 square miles of industrial land, positioning it for decades of new construction.

The company's move beyond the brick and mortar project in Mount Pleasant stems from the company's recognition that its position as a technology innovator needs to be tied to a public benefit, Smith said.

"You can't have a great company without contributing to a great community. You need the community to support the company, the company needs to support the community," he said.

UWM, Gateway to help businesses adapt to changing tech environment

A centerpiece of the plan is a partnership with UW-Milwaukee and Gateway Technical College to launch an AI Co-Innovation Lab, an immersive training program in which companies' tech teams work with Microsoft AI and Internet of Things specialists to solve problems, develop technology strategies or simply better understand the opportunities new technology offers for manufacturing operations.

The lab would be Microsoft's third in the U.S. and the first east of the Rocky Mountains. As the first innovation lab that is a partnership with a university and focused on manufacturing, it is expected to become a magnet for companies across the country, Microsoft said.

The lab would be housed at UWM's Connected Systems Institute, a research and education center focused on advanced industrial processes. Microsoft in January gave the CSI $1.2 million to expand its programs. It also donated $1.5 million in 2019.

Staff would include two full-time and three part-time employees hired by Microsoft as well as two people from Titletown Tech, the initiative started in partnership with the Green Bay Packers in 2019 to provide venture capital and business development resources to technology entrepreneurs. 

Participation in the program, which aims to work with about 50 businesses, would be free. In addition to business training, the program would provide internship and fellowship opportunities for students and a pipeline to Titletown Tech for startup companies that enroll in the program.

The training and education initiatives also include:

  • Partnering with gener8or, a Madison-based startup business and skills accelerator program, to provide AI-related training for southeast Wisconsin leaders at primarily small and mid-sized businesses. The goal is to provide training for 1,000 companies over the next five years.
  • Expanding a partnership with United Way, schools and other organizations to bring people into quick-hitting, boot camp-style skills training programs for roles in well-paying tech fields. United Way is a key partner because of its ability to reach people who face barriers to well-paying jobs, the company said. The goal is to create 100,000 opportunities by 2030 for people to learn new skills and to use new applications, including Microsoft Copilot, a suite of Microsoft AI services.
  • Opening a previously announced data center academy at Gateway Technical College that will train up to 200 students a year as data center technicians. Graduates could be hired to work at Mount Pleasant or at other regional data centers.
  • Partnering with Racine Unified School District to expand its Girls in STEM program to two additional middle schools, allowing it to reach more than 500 middle-school aged girls over next five years.
  • Working with Racine County to support its Summer Youth Employment Program, matching at least 125 working-age high school students a year with local employers for on the job training.
"The big thing is reaching 100,000 people with skilling, reaching businesses so that they can really innovate in manufacturing," Smith said. "That's why we're building the infrastructure in the first place. So let's make sure the infrastructure serves the people and businesses of Wisconsin and that it isn't just a place that uses the land to serve the rest of the country."

Another boatload of promises, just like Fox-conjob.

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