PROVIDENCE – When General Electric Co. in 2015 announced plans to move out of its longtime Connecticut headquarters, many were surprised when Rhode Island was named as a possible new location.
Fewer were surprised, however, when the global manufacturing behemoth in January chose Boston instead.
“In the end they wanted to go to a big city,” said Gov. Gina M. Raimondo.
But Raimondo didn’t end the conversation with GE there, and for the past four months has been in discussions with the company about whether Rhode Island might receive some spillover jobs.
“When they called me to say, ‘We’re going to Boston for our headquarters,’ I immediately said, ‘OK, what can we have?” Raimondo told reporters.
Those discussions have yielded results, as the governor on Thursday announced the company would open a new GE Digital information technology center in Providence, slated to yield an immediate 100 jobs with the possibility of future expansion.
The news of a big-name company opening new offices with new jobs is significant for the second-year governor, who’s largely pinned her political agenda around economic development and job creation. Edward M. Mazze, distinguished university professor of business administration at the University of Rhode Island, said the GE announcement is good news for Rhode Island.
“In Rhode Island we talk about jobs in the tens and hundreds, not the thousands because of our size,” Mazze told Providence Business News. “One hundred jobs, whether they be at GE or any other organization, is important.”
More importantly, he adds, it’s a much-needed victory for Raimondo and a state that has suffered from lackluster economic growth since the Great Recession.
“We need a number of small victories so that we can change the attitude of Rhode Islanders toward both the economy and the government,” Mazze said.
Raimondo expects GE to begin hiring immediately and R.I. Commerce Secretary Stefan Pryor said the company is in negotiations for a lease in Providence, but would not divulge any more information. The company, if successful in producing the 100 jobs, could be eligible for about $5.6 million in state incentives through the R.I. Commerce Corp. Pryor estimates the state could more than double its initial investment in state revenue over the next 12 years. The commerce secretary would not say how much GE planned to invest in the state, adding that more details could be expected next week.
Raimondo, who quickly looked past being looked over for the company’s corporate headquarters, says landing a division of such a big-name company is significant for the state and her approach to spurring economic development.
“It’s real validation that the steps that we’ve taken to improve our business climate, to tackle tough issues like pensions and Medicaid and to invest in skills are paying off,” she said. “This is recognition that Rhode Island is on the move and that one of America’s greatest companies has chosen to invest here and grow here.”
GE Digital is an informational technology arm of the company and specializes in developing software for the company. The company simultaneously announced it would open a $3 million global digital operations center in Atlanta, Ga., which along with Rhode Island was named as a finalist for GE’s headquarters last year.
“This is going to open peoples’ eyes to what’s possible in Rhode Island,” Raimondo said. “GE could have gone anywhere.”