GE coming because of our brains, not brilliant pols

With all the excitement and high-fiving among state and city and leaders starting to wind down, now comes the annoying reality check on the General Electric news that ruins all the fun.

It turns out Charlie Baker and Marty Walsh don’t walk on water. Their bipartisan rowing in the same direction was surely helpful (there is the matter of those pesky public incentives handed to a fantastically profitable Fortune 100 company, which we’ll get to).  But GE’s decision to come to Boston probably has a lot more to do with MIT, SCPs (“smart, connected products”), and area companies like PTC than it does with the BRA, EOHED, and combined charm offensive of Teams Walsh and Baker.

Michael Porter, one of the preeminent thinkers on what drives economic activity and a father of the idea of economic “clusters,” makes that clear in an op-ed in today’s Globe. “GE decided to locate its headquarters in Boston because this region is the center of an emerging cluster of interrelated technologies and companies that is critical to GE’s long-term success,” he writes.

GE’s decision is also part of an overall movement of companies and educated talent from suburbia, where they safely took refuge during the grim decades for US cities, back to resurgent urban centers. The Globe’s Jon Chesto highlights that, as did Aaron Renn last week in this piece for City Journal. “The children of those who fled to suburbs to escape urban decline have embraced city living,” writes Renn. “Unlike the Baby Boomers, who were raised in an era when cities were getting worse and worse, the Millennials came of age as cities were being reborn.”

What’s more, he writes, in Porteresque prose, “People with advanced, specialized knowledge are the ones who help companies innovate now. These employees work in highly interactive ways that benefit from clustering together—disproportionately in urban areas like New York, Chicago, and Boston.” Evan Falchuk, of the United Independent Party, also raised this in a piece on the GE deal.

Porter adds an interesting nugget about GE’s decision last year to site in Boston a $1 billion energy unit called Current. “Massachusetts state officials learned about the decision after the fact,” he writes. “There were no incentives.”

Which gets to the matter of the $150 million state and city package put together for GE’s new headquarters. Conservative Globe columnist Jeff Jacoby calls it a “corrupting shell game.” He fairly asks why $150 million in public money is needed to “enrich a vast multinational company” with $150 billion in annual revenue. “Baker and Walsh are taking bows, but their crony capitalism is nothing to cheer,” he writes.

All the celebrating of city and state ingenuity also seems to play off what might be called the Menino-Detroit Fallacy. The late Boston mayor, in a 2013 interview with The New York Times Magazine’s Mark Leibovich, said he would have liked the chance to work some of his urban mechanic magic on the basket case of urban America. “I’d blow the place up and start over,” Menino quipped about an imagined opportunity to lead Detroit.

The idea that Menino’s nuts-and-bolts approach to city government could have upended the global economic forces that put Detroit back on its heels was as absurd as the idea that his leadership explained Boston’s boom over the previous 20 years. As Porter and many others have pointed out, the global economy is now richly rewarding the things that Boston has in abundance. That wasn’t true in the 1950s, and Boston was an economic backwater then, while Detroit was booming.

Solid, honest governance is important. But much bigger forces account for the lion’s share of why our region is doing so well — and why GE is heading here.




With the addition of liberal activist Mara Dolan as communications chief, Senate President Stan Rosenberg now has five staff members working on various aspects of his press and communications strategy. (Boston Globe)

A Herald editorial gives a thumbs down to efforts now beginning to amend the state constitution to raise the income tax on those earning $1 million per year or more.


Mayor Marty Walsh focuses on schools in his second State of the City address since becoming Boston’s mayor. (Boston Globe) He also talked about housing and affordable housing. (Boston Magazine)

Worcester said it would reimburse about 350 people for towing fees and tickets issued after a parking ban was ordered Monday morning with no notice to residents. (Telegram & Gazette)

Despite protests, Lowell implements a new firearms policy that requires gun owners to take a safety course and explain in writing why they should receive a license. (The Sun)

Chatham selectmen rescind their vote to impose a two-hour limit on parking on the town’s streets in the summer after businesses complained the new rules would have a negative impact. (Cape Cod Times)


Most of the speakers at a City Council hearing in Springfield voice support for the scaled-back version of the MGM casino. (Masslive)


Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder apologizes and vows to fix the Flint water crisis. (Detroit Free Press)

US Rep. Richard Neal, a centrist Massachusetts Democrat, bides his time at Ways and Means. (CommonWealth)

The Supreme Court will hear the challenge to President Obama’s executive order to defer deportation of illegal immigrants. (U.S. News & World Report)


A new poll shows Bernie Sanders with an enormous, 27-point lead over Hillary Clinton in New Hampshire. (Boston Globe)

Sarah Palin endorses Donald Trump. (New York Times) The National Review is neither surprised nor impressed by Palin’s endorsement. The New York Daily News goes all-in on its cover (although you may need to cover your right eye to avoid the sports backpage cover.) Read the full text of Palin’s remarks here. Meanwhile, Palin’s son Track is arrested in connection with a domestic violence case. (Time)

If Trump prevails in the New Hampshire primary, he will have done so while eschewing the standard playbook of running a heavily grassroots effort there. (Boston Globe)

The Quincy City Council has set a special election for May 3 to fill the Ward 6 seat of Brian McNamee, who died before being sworn in. McNamee’s challenger says he should be awarded the post and is threatening a lawsuit. (Patriot Ledger)


The Texas attorney general is the latest to declare daily fantasy sports to be illegal gambling. (New York Times)

New Bedford Mayor Jon Mitchell blasted the state’s management of State Pier on the city’s waterfront after two cargo ships were diverted to other ports because there was no refrigeration available for their produce. The ship diversions left more than 100 longshoremen without work. (Standard-Times)

Microsoft has announced it will donate $1 billion in cloud-based computing services to nonprofits over the next three years. (Seattle Times)


As more students from China clamor to attend US colleges, there is lots of cheating going on in the effort to gain admission — and new steps are being taken by schools to detect it. (Boston Globe)

More than a dozen Massachusetts schools received bomb threats Tuesday morning. (WBUR)

The Easton School Committee is considering a measure to push back the start time for middle and elementary school students. (The Enterprise)

Administrators at Greater New Bedford Regional Vocational Technical High School have confirmed that the principal, who has been the subject of student complaints and an online petition calling for her removal, has been on paid leave since November. No other information was provided. (Standard-Times)

The merger of Berklee College of Music and the Boston Conservatory will make good music — and strategic sense, say officials of the two schools. (Boston Herald)


Massachusetts’ ongoing boom in the construction of new psychiatric hospitals is now even bigger than was reported in CommonWealth’s winter issue by Edward M. Murphy. In addition to three new hospitals under construction or recently opened, another one is being developed in Westborough. Signature Healthcare Services, a privately owned company based in Corona, California, plans to convert a former office building near Route 9 into a psychiatric hospital. This project brings the total of new inpatient beds to well over 600 in what has become a lucrative and competitive market.

Stuart Altman, chairman of the Health Policy Commission, sits down for a chat with CommonWealth.

The Obama administration has announced new regulations to make it more difficult for latecomers to buy health care coverage after open enrollment deadlines pass. The changes were made after complaints by insurance companies that the late sign-ups drive up costs because many of the new enrollees buy in only when they are sick and need care. (New York Times)

Home video surveillance shows a visiting nurse stealing money from an elderly Charlton woman’s pocketbook. (Telegram & Gazette)


The MBTA had more breakdowns than any other transit system in the country in 2014. (Boston Business Journal)

A couple dozen people attend a hearing on whether the T’s money-losing, late-night service should continue. (WBUR)


The Baker administration says the state’s greenhouse gas emission target for 2020 is achievable but quick action is needed on legislation allowing the importation of hydroelectricity from Canada. (State House News)

Eversource and National Grid ask the Department of Public Utilities to approve contracts that would have their electricity customers finance the construction of new natural gas pipelines into the region. (CommonWealth)

The Gulf of Maine, home to cod and other cold-water fish, is warming faster than expected. (Gloucester Times)

A Kinder Morgan subsidiary is asking the state Department of :Public Utilities to allow the company to conduct surveys on private property along the route of its proposed natural gas pipeline into Massachusetts. (Eagle-Tribune)

A Danvers group is trying to convince homeowners to stop burning yard waste. (Salem News)


The Supreme Court has let stand a $63 million judgment against Johnson & Johnson awarded to the family of a Plymouth girl after the girl had an extreme allergic reaction to Children’s Motrin that left her nearly blind and severely burned in 2003. (Patriot Ledger)

The Florida Supreme Court will not review the murder conviction of former FBI agent — and Whitey Bulger pal — John Connolly, who is serving a life sentence. (Boston Herald)

The Worcester County House of Correction in West Boylston is struggling to maintain modular buildings that have gone beyond their typical expiration date. (Masslive)

Keller@Large asks what is wrong with Middlesex County District Attorney Marian Ryan after the embattled prosecutor reiterated her desire to try Marathon bomber Dzhokhar Tsarnaev for the murder of MIT Officer Sean Collier.

Two people were shot yesterday afternoon at Maverick Station in East Boston. (Boston Herald)


Nielsen is expected to announce it will include social media chatter from Facebook and Twitter in its metrics for television ratings. (New York Times)