As GE shrinks, 800-job promise may lag
In many ways, General Electric has lived up to the hype around its relocation from Connecticut two years ago. But it could be a long wait before GE delivers on its promise to bring 800 jobs here.
On the plus side, at the start of its third year in Boston, GE already has made its mark with extensive charitable work and community involvement. The company’s foundation donated close to $20 million locally during the last two years, with a focus on improving STEM education in public schools and tackling the opioid addiction crisis. Several executives joined boards of local organizations, while many employees have volunteered for numerous causes. And GE has made inroads into the academic and startup communities — much like former CEO Jeff Immelt had pledged.
But GE is in quite a different place than it was in January 2016, when it picked Boston as its new home. The company’s stock value has fallen more than 50 percent. Immelt left under pressure. And new CEO John Flannery is disassembling much of GE — with divestitures underway for major business lines such as health care, oil and gas, and trains.
GE initially said it will have 800 people in Boston: a corporate staff of 200, plus 600 “digital industrial” professionals from its Digital, Current, robotics, and life sciences divisions. But Flannery is paring back Digital. The Current smart-lighting group soon will be sold, and the health care group will be spun out. About 235 people work at GE’s interim headquarters today.
GE is halfway through work on a nearly 100,000-square-foot complex in Fort Point, combining two century-old, brick-and-beam buildings that had fallen into disrepair, with help from $125 million in state funds. It will provide more than enough room for the existing corporate team.
But there’s still some uncertainty around the second, pricier half of the project: a striking 12-story tower that Flannery delayed by two years. The city’s offer of $25 million in property tax relief is tied to this construction, and to GE’s commitment to employ 800 people here by 2025. A spokesman said the plan is still to start part two sometime next year and finish it in 2021 — though it is not a stretch to wonder about its fate as the company continues to shrink.