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E-mails show R.I. governor’s aggressive courtship of GE

Governor Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island.
Governor Gina Raimondo of Rhode Island.Paul Morigi/Getty Images for Fortune/Time Inc./file 2015

Gina Raimondo lost the high-stakes competition to win General Electric’s favor. But the Rhode Island governor is still declaring victory.

E-mails obtained by the Globe show an aggressive push from the Raimondo administration to lure GE’s headquarters away from suburban Connecticut. They also convey celebratory sentiments even after Boston beat Providence in that race, with the hope that some GE jobs could still be on their way.

The same day GE confirmed it was relocating to Boston on Jan. 13, Raimondo spoke with GE chief financial officer Jeff Bornstein, according to those e-mails.

The e-mails don’t show the specifics of the conversation. But in an interview on Monday, Raimondo says that Bornstein wasn’t necessarily calling to deliver bad news. The company had already given her a heads up a few days earlier that Providence was out of the running.

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Instead, she said, Bornstein made a point during the call of complimenting her about Providence’s relatively low costs and its talent pool: “He said, ‘You guys ran a terrific process. We were looking for a bigger city than Providence, but Providence has an awful lot to offer.’”

As a result of that conversation, the venture capitalist-turned-politician says state officials are in talks with GE about the possibility of moving other positions, such as IT jobs, to the state. GE’s public relations team took the unusual step of issuing a statement confirming that Rhode Island was a finalist and that discussions about moving jobs there are in the works.

“The fact that the headquarters [will be] in Boston, and Rhode Island is just a stone’s throw down the road, makes Rhode Island a more viable option for those other jobs,” she says.

The e-mails obtained by the Globe also show that the presentation that Raimondo’s team made to GE in September was similar to others that the first-term governor has made to other companies. It highlighted the state’s stable tax rates, relatively low housing costs and proximity to Boston and New York.

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One of the slides compares two homes selling for $900,000: a tired-looking, two-story house in Newton to a palatial spread in Barrington, R.I. Another slide compares how much more rent “Bay State Owen” would pay to live in the Boston area versus “Ocean State Owen” — a reference to a character in GE’s TV ads.

Also included in the e-mails: Rhode Island’s four-person congressional delegation sent a letter to GE chief executive Jeff Immelt and Bornstein in December to help Raimondo make the case.

In the interview, Raimondo said key business leaders also chipped in for the big pitch — people like Hasbro chief executive Brian Goldner, CVS Health CEO Larry Merlo and Brown University President Christina Paxson.

From Raimondo’s point of view, the fact that Providence was competitive to the end in a race with heavyweights such as Boston and New York could help her case when she tries to convince other companies to come.

“The fact we were able to quickly mobilize our entire federal delegation, presidents of major universities and our business community, sends a signal,” she says, “that if you come to Rhode Island, you’re on our team.”


Jon Chesto can be reached at jon.chesto@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jonchesto.