There was one component of its $50 million local charitable program that had remained unfulfilled: workforce training. GE pledged when it moved here from Connecticut in 2016 that it would provide $10 million to train underserved populations outside the Boston metro area, including in Lynn and Fall River.
GE is now making good on that promise.
On Thursday, GE executives will join a coterie of public officials at the Lynn Vocational Technical Institute to unveil a $2.5 million grant from the company’s foundation. The money will launch a specialized training program at the Lynn high school, plus Gloucester High School and the Essex North Shore Agricultural & Technical School. Dubbed the Advanced Manufacturing Training Expansion Program, it will be administered by the Essex County Community Foundation and the Northeast Advanced Manufacturing Consortium, and also rope in North Shore Community College.
GE views this gift as a matching grant: It complements $2 million in state funding that the Baker administration has given to the Lynn school for a wide range of equipment: robotic arms, 3-D printers, laser cutters, and the like. That’s by far the largest “skills capital grant” awarded from the state’s Workforce Skills Cabinet, an initiative that Governor Charlie Baker started in 2015.
Addressing the “skills gap” among blue-collar employers has been a pressing issue for Baker. The jobs are out there, in the manufacturing sector. The problem? Finding enough people to fill those positions. To address the issue, the administration has handed out more than $65 million through these grants during the past four years.
On the corporate front, GE is paring back parts of its far-flung empire. But in Lynn, home to a major jet-engine plant where 2,600 people work, GE’s story is all about growth. The company has added dozens of jobs there since January after the Army awarded a $517 million contract to its aviation division to design a new generation of helicopter engines.
The GE Foundation’s president, Linda Boff, says some of the folks who will benefit from the grant could end up working at GE’s River Works plant, where a wave of retirements is expected. But Boff says the driving force is to become a better member of the North Shore community by helping to close that skills gap. GE hopes to train more than 900 high school students and adults by 2024 through the program — nicknamed AMTEP, because everything needs an acronym — potentially with the help of a follow-up grant.
Baker will attend the event on Thursday, a sign of the importance he puts on workforce training — and on GE (though he does live in the next town over, Swampscott).
Scheduled to join him from his inner circle: Lieutenant Governor Karyn Polito, economic affairs secretary Mike Kennealy, and labor secretary Rosalin Acosta. Kennealy says this money should help address constraints the tech schools face; demand has been high, but equipment purchases have not kept pace.
The story of how this GE money is finding its way to Lynn can be traced back to a meeting that then-chief executive Jeff Immelt held with members of the state’s congressional delegation in March 2016, a few weeks before the big philanthropic announcement. Representative Seth Moulton told Immelt he shouldn’t just focus on Boston with the headquarters move, and should consider Lynn, a key city in Moulton’s district, in particular. Representative Joe Kennedy also made the case for Fall River.
Moulton continued the discussion when he visited GE’s Fort Point headquarters in 2017. GE was still in on Lynn, but needed direction. So Moulton’s district director, Rick Jakious, brought together workforce-training constituencies in the North Shore to propose a detailed plan.
As Immelt’s successors, John Flannery and now Larry Culp began divesting divisions to help stabilize the company’s shaky finances, Moulton worried the commitment to Lynn would waver. GE will employ only 250 at its new headquarters when it moves there in December — it once promised 800 eventually — and has significantly pared back the HQ size.
Boff says GE always planned to honor its charitable pledges. At the end of 2018, GE had donated more than $15 million of the $50 million. The money may take an extra year or two to be doled out, beyond the initial plan for five years. But it’s still coming.
GE’s move to Boston might have turned out poorly for the Baker administration. The state had invested some $87 million in the new headquarters property, after all. But Fort Point real estate is hot right now: The state was fully reimbursed and earned a tidy $11 million profit when the land that GE didn’t need was sold this year.
As far as Baker is concerned, GE has lived up to its philanthropic promises. He says he feels very good about the administration’s relationship with the company. In particular, this new commitment in Lynn, Baker says, sends an important signal to the broader employer community about the importance of this work.
Yes, GE’s move to Boston hasn’t worked out as planned. But hundreds of North Shore students will be able to attest to the fact that the local economy is better off now that the company is here.