GE dims its Boston presence

GE may bring good things to life, but they’ll be bringing a lot less to Boston than the company promised to great fanfare just three years ago.

The company announced on Thursday that it will sell the Fort Point property where it planned to build out its corporate headquarters and pay back $87 million in state funding that was used to acquire and prepare the site. It confirmed that there will be no shiny 12-story glass tower alongside refurbished brick buildings. Nix the $25 million property tax incentive deal with the city. And the 800 jobs it vowed to bring to the site will be more like 250, which is only a little more than the number of GE employees already working in nearby rented offices, reports the Globe’s Jon Chesto, who broke the news.

It seems like a million years ago, in 2016, when word that GE would move its world headquarters to the Hub had everyone talking about Boston’s future leading the “industrial internet” revolution — especially the company’s then-CEO Jeff Immelt. In March of that year, he charmed business leaders at a luncheon with talk of how Boston would be the alpha figure of that new tech chapter “the way Silicon Valley and Seattle were for the last 20 years.”

WGBH’s Adam Reilly wrote at the time that what struck him most about Immelt from hearing him speak at the event “was just how good he’ll be at telling Bostonians exactly what they want to hear.”

By December 2016, the four state and city officials under Gov. Charlie Baker and Mayor Marty Walsh who quietly worked out the headquarters deal were crowned “Bostonians of the Year” by the Globe.

“When GE announced in January that Boston had won — beating out New York, which had put in a competing bid — it was the economic equivalent of the Red Sox reversing the curse and winning the World Series,” gushed the Globe.

Just a little over two years later, Immelt is long gone — and so is his successor — GE’s stock price has cratered, and the company is shedding various units and dramatically paring back its reach in an effort to find a profitable path forward.

Shirley Leung points out that the state and city should not lose any money on the GE dive, and the state could score a lucky real estate appreciation dividend. GE also says it remains committed to $50 million in local philanthropy.

That said, the GE presence here will be a far cry from the picture painted at the time city and state officials spent hundreds of hours wooing the company.

If the GE saga points to the risks of government betting big on a company in a global economy where fortunes can change quickly, the Amazon story in New York, in some ways, highlights the risks of the reverse. In that case, a booming company suddenly decided its bet on a new location, which top elected leaders in New York were swooning over, looked like less of a good thing in the face of objections bubbling up from activists and lower-level officials whose concerns had been muffled by higher-ups eager to land the deal.

Amazon announced yesterday that it was pulling out of the deal to build a secondary headquarters in Queens, a plan that involved $3 billion in state and city incentives and the promise of 25,000 jobs over time.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo lashed out at Democrats in the state Senate who threatened to derail the deal. Mayor Bill de Blasio took aim at Amazon. The city’s tabloids went after the pols, with the Daily News front-page blasting the “Amazon killers,” with photos of four elected officials, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Michael Gianaris, the Queens state senator who was leading the charge against the company. The Post zeroes in on Gianaris, with the headline “Prime suspect: Meet the man who killed the Amazon deal.”

Critics said the thousands of jobs with six-figure salaries would only exacerbate gentrification pressures in Long Island City, the Queens neighborhood where Amazon planned to land. Meanwhile, the incentives being offered to a company run by the richest guy in the world weren’t only being criticized by activists on the left; the 13th richest guy in the world, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, also questioned the incentive package.

Chris Dempsey, who led the opposition to a Boston Olympic bid, told WBUR the backlash in New York to Amazon revealed a similar disconnect between what power brokers were thinking and saying and the views at ground level.

The bigger takeaway from both the GE and Amazon deals, venture capitalist Jeff Bussgang told the station, is that cities should stop the single-minded pursuit of individual companies with big incentive deals.

“The lesson for cities is to focus on creating a great environment, a great infrastructure, and a great ecosystem and not use tax incentives to focus on one particular company or another because those companies are going to change,” Bussgang said. “There’s a natural ebb and flow to the market. And cities don’t want to be dependent on the ebbs and flows, and the competitive positioning of any one company.”

–MICHAEL JONAS


BEACON HILL

The state’s two legislative leaders hand out job assignments. House Speaker Robert DeLeo names Rep. Aaron Michlewitz of Boston as his budget chief, while Senate President Karen Spilka goes with Sen. Michael Rodrigues of Westport. Spilka moves Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz out of her post as co-chair of the Education Committee and DeLeo leaves one committee post vacant for Rep. Paul McMurtry of Dedham, who is currently being investigated for allegedly touching the backside of a fellow lawmaker.

Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa of Northampton uses a column in the Daily Hampshire Gazette to talk to her constituents. “What you say gives me the ability to speak truth to power, and together we can work to shift that power back to the people,” she says.

Sen. Adam Hinds of Pittsfield files legislation targeting inequities in rural education funding. (Berkshire Eagle)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

Modular construction – where entire rooms are built off-site and then assembled where the building is going up – is being used to put together a 68-unit apartment complex in Newton and the method could be part of the solution to supplying more housing. (PRI’s The World)

Now that Andrew Maylor is the state’s new comptroller, the town of North Andover is looking for someone to fill Maylor’s old role as town manager. (Eagle-Tribune)

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

President Trump is expected to sign a bill today to keep government funding going, but also declare a “state of emergency” in order to appropriate money for a border wall without congressional authorization. (Washington Post)

Rep. Ayanna Pressley joined with fellow freshman House lefties Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, and Rashida Tlaib in voting against the compromise deal to keep the government open, slamming the measure in a joint statement with her three colleagues for threatening the “dignity and humanity of our immigrant population” through its increased funding for ICE and the Department of Homeland Security. (Boston Herald)

Charlotte, North Carolina, is going all in on building affordable housing. (Governing)

Jonathan Gruber, who helped craft the Affordable Care Act, thinks that US Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s proposed tax on the 75,000 wealthiest Americans would be a good way to raise money without hampering the economy, and Indiana Law School professor Dawn Johnsen argues it would be constitutional. (WGBH News)

ELECTIONS

Former governor Bill Weld says he’s exploring a Republican primary run against President Trump. (Boston Globe)

Former attorney general Martha Coakley is among the co-hosts listed for a Boston fundraiser next week for presidential candidate Kamala Harris, who will be in town following a swing through New Hampshire. (Boston Globe)

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said he’ll make a decision about a future run for governor “when the time is right.” (Boston Herald)

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

Brockton Mayor Bill Carpenter has entered into 10 host community agreements with applicants for recreational marijuana licenses. (Brockton Enterprise)

A group of Seattle-based nuns are upset with the report done on preventing gun violence by the corporate parent of Springfield-based Smith & Wesson. (MassLive)

EDUCATION

Cash-strapped UMass Boston scores a big revenue gain with Bayside Expo lease. (State House News) The interim chancellor at the campus tells the Dorchester Reporter it’s “a brand with new day” for UMass Boston.

The voluntary school desegregation Metco program is revamping its signup process to remove the advantage long enjoyed by families in the know who registered children soon after their birth for kindergarten slots. (Boston Globe)

The planned construction of a new high school in downtown Lowell has caused concern among the owners of Cobblestones restaurant who worry about the loss of parking spaces in front of the place.  (Lowell Sun)

Hampshire College in Amherst prepares for an initial round of layoffs. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

A new study raises more concerns about artificially sweetened soft drinks like Diet Coke. (MassLive)

ARTS/CULTURE

The Boston Symphony Orchestra’s principal flutist Elizabeth Rowe has contended that the higher salary earned by the symphony’s principal oboist, John Ferrillo, violated the state’s recently updated equal pay law. Rowe and the BSO have now reached a confidential settlement.  (WBUR)

A Berkshire Eagle editorial hails a Washington exhibit of Norman Rockwell’s Four Freedoms as a way to remind lawmakers why they are in the capitol.

TRANSPORTATION

Residents of Bourne say they want changes to come to the roads leading to the Bourne and Sagamore bridges soon, following a Massachusetts Department of Transportation study. The agency is considering changing the Bourne Rotary into a highway interchange. (Cape Cod Times)

The city of Haverhill plans to install three electric-vehicle charging stations operated by ChargePoint in a downtown parking garage. (Eagle-Tribune)

ENERGY/ENVIRONMENT

Holyoke Gas & Electric, a municipally owned utility, halts all natural gas hookups, citing the lack of natural gas pipeline capacity in the region. Interestingly, the Baker administration, once a big booster of new pipeline capacity, suggests that’s not an option. (CommonWealth)

Eastham Board of Selectmen are working on a municipal harbor and waterways management plan, and intend to open up the discussion to the public on March 18. The state’s Seaport Economic Council allotted a chunk of money to the town for adjustments. (Cape Cod Times)

CASINOS/MARIJUANA

James Murren, MGM Resorts president and CEO, says the gambling business in Springfield is slowly ramping up while hotel and beverage revenues are ahead of schedule. (MassLive)

Veterinarians report they are seeing more stoned pets in their practices. (Telegram & Gazette)

Somerville has prioritized black and Latino applicants for its retail marijuana licenses, and now, with the licensure process open, the search is on for business people who would qualify under the new requirements. (WGBH News)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

The recent purloining of nearly 18,000 pills, including OxyContin and Percocet, from Beverly Hospital could be among the largest pill thefts in the country, but there are no agencies at the state or national level tasked with systematically tracking that sort of thing, the Salem News reports.

Bristol County District Attorney Thomas Quinn III is launching a new cyber crime-fighting tool in hopes of catching violent fugitives. (Herald News)

Norfolk County prosecutors want the state Appeals Court to weigh in on a state law that led a judge to dismiss charges against former Milton Academy teacher Reynold Buono, accused of sexually assaulting a student in the 1980s. (Patriot Ledger)