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shirley leung

The motto, the history — GE, it’s time to come home


Dear Jeff Immelt:

Don’t stay in Connecticut. Don’t go to New York. Move the headquarters of General Electric Co. to Boston, and here’s why: We, like your old motto, bring good things to life.

It’s not just Paul Revere starting the American Revolution, but we have a long history of inventions: Alexander Graham Bell and his telephone, Edwin Land and his Polaroid camera, King Gillette and his disposable razor blade, Raytheon engineer Percy Spencer and his microwave oven, iRobot and the Roomba.

In other words, we like to change the world. We try to cure cancer and MS and cystic fibrosis. We try to do things with the human gene that have never been done before.


We care about the power of the idea, and we play to win, in our universities, in our startups, in our hospitals, and in our sports teams. That’s what Boston is, never more than today. That’s what GE is. We wouldn’t just be your new home. We’d be your partner.

Boston is on your shortlist of where you might move, and as chief executive of GE, it can be hard to resist the bright lights of Manhattan in a namesake skyscraper complete with a helipad. But let’s be clear: GE would be just another Fortune 100 company in New York, and you’ll always play second fiddle to Wall Street (think Citigroup, Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase). The Big Apple is ruled by financiers in their flashy suits, not engineers with their pocket protectors.

But here in Boston, GE would be the biggest fish our pond has ever seen. Boston would become a GE company town.

Now I know moving can be such a pain. Uprooting some 500 employees and their families from Fairfield, Conn., is never easy. Inertia may set in, even nostalgia for the Nutmeg State, where GE has been based for four decades.


But remember the rigamarole Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy and the Legislature just put you and other companies like yours through. In June, lawmakers threatened to raise corporate taxes, which made you start considering options outside the state. And now that you’re down this path — and you’re looking pretty seriously at Boston and New York — Connecticut politicians desperately want you to stay and passed a new budget this week rolling back the tax hikes.

Can you really trust those people in Hartford? Let me tell you who’s in charge in Massachusetts. A Republican named Charlie Baker who is a fiscal conservative, doesn’t like to raise taxes, and holds an MBA. He gets the business world.

Baker also happens to be the most popular governor in the country, with a 74 percent approval rating, according to a poll by digital media company Morning Consult. By comparison, the same poll showed that Malloy, a Democrat, garnered a 36 percent approval rating, among the lowest in the country.

But truth be told, Boston also needs GE. Over the years, our marquee companies have been swallowed up by out-of-state buyers. FleetBoston, nee Bank of Boston, is now owned by Bank of America. John Hancock is no longer all American, acquired by Canada’s Manulife. Filene’s, the storied department store brand, vanished when the company that owns Macy’s bought it. Gillette is now part of Procter & Gamble. And our biggest tech company, EMC, just got acquired by Dell.

Having corporate headquarters here matter. It’s that much easier for chief executives and companies to be civic players in their hometowns supporting everything from museums to homeless shelters. And boy does this town need more companies to step up. We learned this week not only that David Mugar, the impresario behind the annual Fourth of July Boston Pops concert and fireworks on the Esplanade, will be retiring and doing his last show in 2016, but that the beloved tradition still lacks a sponsor.


Boston insurer Liberty Mutual, after a decade, ended its financial support last year, and Mugar is still looking for someone to pick up the $2.75 million cost of producing the extravaganza that draws 500,000 visitors to the banks of the Charles River.

That’s not all. Next year Citigroup will be ending its multimillion-dollar sponsorship of the Citi Performing Arts Center — a nonprofit that operates the Citi Wang Theatre and Citi Shubert Theatre. And First Night, Boston’s arts-focused New Year’s Eve celebration, has struggled to raise money from the private sector.

Lastly, let me appeal to your sense of history. General Electric was formed in 1892, the merger of two rival electrical companies — Thomson-Houston Co. and Edison General Electric Co. Thomson-Houston was based in Lynn, where GE maintains a plant that makes jet engines. So moving GE’s headquarters to Massachusetts is really a homecoming.

Isn’t it time GE come home?

Shirley Leung is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at shirley.leung@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @leung.