President Donald Trump said Apple Inc. has committed to build three "big" manufacturing plants in the U.S., a move that would represent a major change in strategy for the world's most valuable company and boost the White House's long-held promise to return overseas factory jobs to America.
Trump told the Wall Street Journal on Tuesday that Apple Chief Executive Tim Cook told him the new factories were already in the works.
"I spoke to (Mr. Cook), he's promised me three big plants — big, big, big," Trump told the Journal. "I said, 'You know, Tim, unless you start building your plants in this country, I won't consider my administration an economic success. He called me, and he said they are going forward.'"
Apple didn't respond to a request for comment.
The iPhone maker has said little about its plans to boost manufacturing in the U.S. In May, Cook said Apple would invest $1 billion into a fund to promote advanced manufacturing stateside. The first recipient of that fund was Corning Inc., which makes glass for iPhone and iPad screens. The company, based in western New York, received $200 million from Apple.
Foxconn, the Taiwanese-owned electronics giant that operates most of Apple's massive factory network in China, is considering opening a plant in Wisconsin large enough to accommodate 10,000 workers. Still, that would represent a drop in the bucket compared to the company's China operations. Plants there hold in excess of 100,000 workers.
"You're going to need people to work in these massive plants," Trump told the Journal. "I'm going to start explaining to people: When you have an area that just isn't working like upper New York state, where people are getting very badly hurt, and then you'll have another area 500 miles away where you can't get people, I'm going to explain, you can leave. It's OK. Don't worry about your house."
Apple says it directly employs 80,000 workers in the U.S. and an additional 450,000 through suppliers.
Its small-contract manufacturers on American soil include Flex Ltd., which builds Mac computers in Austin, Texas, and Quanta Computer Inc., which produces Macs in Fremont, Calif., according to the Journal.
The president has had a prickly relationship with Apple. He called for a boycott of the company when it declined to assist investigators in unlocking an iPhone that belonged to one of the shooters in the San Bernardino terrorist attack last year. He also pressured Apple on the campaign trail to stop making so many products overseas.
In turn, Cook hosted a fundraiser for Hillary Clinton and was reportedly on her short list for vice president, according to stolen emails obtained by WikiLeaks.