General Electric is the latest company to give up the suburbs for the city. News of GE’s move from its 1970s-style corporate campus in suburban Fairfield, Connecticut, to downtown Boston’s Seaport District has urbanists like me swooning. After all, it confirms much of what we’ve been saying for years: A massive corporation is moving to a dense, vibrant, walkable city center with abundant transit, lots of talent, superb universities, and great quality of place.
“We want to be at the center of an ecosystem that shares our aspiration,” said GE’s CEO, Jeffrey R. Immelt, in his announcement of the deal. “Greater Boston is home to 55 colleges and universities. Massachusetts spends more on research [and] development than any other region in the world, and Boston attracts a diverse, technologically-fluent workforce focused on solving challenges for the world. We are excited to bring our headquarters to this dynamic and creative city.”
The move also shows that cities and metros like Boston can compete for and win corporate headquarters in an increasingly spiky world. Admittedly, if you had asked me to predict GE’s next move, I would have guessed New York City, where the majority of its corporate peers are located. New York offers a thick labor market for the corporate managerial and creative classes, and the culture of the Connecticut-based corporate headquarters was already plugged into the city. Still, the move to Boston makes sense. While greater Boston is expensive—as expensive as, if not more than, the New York metro as a whole—downtown Boston is not nearly as pricey as Midtown Manhattan or New York’s Financial District. And, according to some theories, GE will face somewhat less competition for top talent in the Greater Boston region. The fact that GE picked Boston—a city with over 650,000 people and a metro with over 4.7 million—is heartening not just for the city, but for other metros of similar size and scale.