ML Strategies scores win with GE

Lobbying firm helped facilitate deal with state, city

GENERAL ELECTRIC’S DECISION to relocate its headquarters and 800 jobs to Boston was a big victory for Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Gov. Charlie Baker, but it was also another win for the well-connected Boston lobbying firm of ML Strategies.

ML, a division of the law firm Mintz Levin Cohn Ferris Glovsky & Popeo, was hired by GE a week or so before Thanksgiving. General Electric was preparing to pick up stakes in Connecticut, and wanted to make a final decision about where it was going to land by the end of the year. Many cities and states were competing for General Electric, but the hiring of ML Strategies suggests Boston was on a very short list as of Thanksgiving.

“They thought it was such a tight time frame that they needed someone on the ground who could work with the city and the state to get this done,” said Stephen Tocco, the president and CEO of ML Strategies.

ML Strategies is emerging as a lobbying powerhouse in Massachusetts. The company has gained considerable visibility representing Wynn Resorts in its efforts to open a $1.8 billion hotel/casino in Everett. That effort has faced fierce resistance from Boston Mayor Marty Walsh, although Walsh has dialed back his opposition recently after losing a court battle related to the project. ML Strategies also has a host of other blue-chip clients, including AECOM, Boston University, the Massachusetts Hospital Association, State Street Bank, Staples, and a variety of energy companies.  The firm took in more than $1.2 million in lobbying fees during the first six months of 2015; its fees from GE have not been disclosed yet.

Tocco said most of the day-to-day work his firm did for General Electric was handled by him and William (Mo) Cowan, the firm’s chief operating officer and a former chief of staff to Baker’s predecessor, Deval Patrick. State and city officials say they dealt primarily with Cowan. Tocco, a former state secretary of economic affairs and director of the Massachusetts Port Authority, said he often dealt with state officials. William Weld, a former governor of Massachusetts who works as an attorney for the Mintz Levin law firm and a lobbyist for ML Strategies, was also involved in meetings at the State House, Tocco said. Weld is something of a political mentor to Baker, who worked in his administration.

Steven Kadish, Baker’s chief of staff, said ML Strategies was helpful. “They played the role of the owner’s rep and they played the role of overall process facilitator,” he said.

John Barros, the city of Boston’s chief of economic development and a key player in the GE negotiations, described ML Strategies as “essential to the process….They became an instrumental part in the process, helping to set up conversations and work things along. We worked very closely with ML on this.”

Barros said GE officials were shown a number of possible sites for a new headquarters, including locations in Boston, South Weymouth, Waltham, Needham, Cambridge, and Somerville. He said GE officials quickly decided that, if they were going to locate in Massachusetts, it was going to be in Boston.

GE said on Wednesday its new headquarters will be in the Seaport District, but an exact location hasn’t been identified yet. Tocco said Mintz Levin real estate attorneys are now working with GE.

Tom Glynn, who runs Massport and has a long history in state government and the private sector, said the level of cooperation between city and state officials in dealing with GE was unprecedented. “This is the best intergovernmental project I’ve ever been involved with,” he said.

In its press release announcing the move to Boston, GE said it chose the city because of its “business ecosystem, talent, long-term costs, quality of life for employees, connections with the world, and proximity to other company assets.”

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Bruce Mohl

Editor, CommonWealth

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

About Bruce Mohl

Bruce Mohl is the editor of CommonWealth magazine. Bruce came to CommonWealth from the Boston Globe, where he spent nearly 30 years in a wide variety of positions covering business and politics. He covered the Massachusetts State House and served as the Globe’s State House bureau chief in the late 1980s. He also reported for the Globe’s Spotlight Team, winning a Loeb award in 1992 for coverage of conflicts of interest in the state’s pension system. He served as the Globe’s political editor in 1994 and went on to cover consumer issues for the newspaper. At CommonWealth, Bruce helped launch the magazine’s website and has written about a wide range of issues with a special focus on politics, tax policy, energy, and gambling. Bruce is a graduate of Ohio Wesleyan University and the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University. He lives in Dorchester.

What received less attention was the financial package the city and state provided. Boston offered $25 million in property tax relief over 20 years. The state offered $1 million in workforce training grants, up to $120 million for public infrastructure work, and $5 million for an innovation center that could be housed in the new GE headquarters or adjacent to it.

Tocco said GE officials insisted that state and city officials not create any new programs to entice them to Boston. In fact, Tocco said, the GE officials wanted to be shown the statute for each program identified in the funding package. State officials said they had no intention of developing any new program or financial enticement for GE. The infrastructure funds will come from the existing MassWorks program and the money for the innovation center will come out of the capital budget of the state’s Life Sciences Center.

Tocco said GE’s selection of Boston will give a huge lift to the city and the state in both a practical and image sense. He said GE’s presence in Boston will probably attract more business to the area and burnish the reputation of the city and state as business-friendly. “You can’t buy that stuff,” he said.