Bringing Good Things to Light
The high-stakes battle to land General Electric’s corporate offices is over. But the debates concerning this move certainly are not.
Well, some of them are. There is no debating who the big loser is here — Connecticut, which lost 800 jobs, a huge and very generous corporate entity, and a good deal of momentum because of political infighting and short-sightedness.
As for who won, clearly the answer is Boston, which prevailed over a number of municipalities, including New York. But there are still lingering questions about just how much it has won, why, whether the price paid — a $276 million package that includes various kinds of incentives such as tax breaks and infrastructure improvements — was worth it, and whether that money should have been spent in other ways to bolster the state’s economy.
These are all good questions that are, by and large, difficult to answer.
From our vantage point, though, this seems to be a clear victory — for Boston, the Bay State, its unrivaled core of colleges and universities, and its developing reputation as a center of entrepreneurship and innovation.
It was those factors that clearly weighed on GE’s mind, because Boston was outbid by a number of cities when it came to the number at the bottom of the incentive package. GE’s choice was a very strong advertisement for Massachusetts and a clear signal that the state can now compete against Silicon Valley, New York, and other centers of innovation.
This was also a victory, or another victory, to be more precise, for urban centers. Indeed, for years, corporate America, like many of the people inhabiting large cities, especially in the Northeast, opted for the suburbs. Now, they’re coming back, as cities become more livable, walkable, and culturally attractive.
Evidence of this phenomenon is everywhere, from Brooklyn to Lowell; from Boston to Springfield.
Well, maybe it’s too early to put Springfield in that category, but progress is being made. And while GE didn’t choose Springfield, it did choose a city on the rise, one with a strong workforce and an economic engine fueled mostly by innovation. This is what Springfield is aspiring to become.
And GE will, in some respects, help it get there, and that’s why we believe the sticker price for luring GE to the Bay State will ultimately be one well worth spending.
Yes, that’s a lot of money for only 800 jobs — roughly 6,000 positions are created in this state every month, to put things in perspective — and there are a lot of incentives, right down to a helipad. And, yes, in theory, Boston and the state could have taken that money and put it into other programs, especially workforce-development initiatives and additional efforts to help its many still-struggling gateway cities, that would have a direct impact on the state’s economy.
But often, incentives of this kind have a way of paying off, and in this case, we believe they will. GE has the potential to not only inspire other technology-based companies to follow it, but to spur new businesses from the technology its employees create.
We believe there will be a trickle-down effect, perhaps not immediately, but eventually, and other cities, including Springfield, Holyoke, and Pittsfield (long a home to GE’s transformer complex and 13,000 employees), will benefit.
It might be years before those questions listed earlier can be effectively answered. It might actually take decades before we can successfully say whether Boston and the Bay State paid too much to put the letters ‘G’ and ‘E’ on a building along the Hub’s waterfront.
But, for now, this looks like a sound investment in the future of the Commonwealth.