At a welcome party for General Electric Monday night in the top floor of a State Street high-rise, the focus was on both Boston’s past and its future.
The company will bring new jobs, millions in revenue and help elevate the city’s status in the global innovation economy, GE CEO Jeff Immelt, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Gov. Charlie Baker said on a press conference stage – a stance all three have already taken in past speeches and statements.
Immelt also highlighted the possibilities of the city’s growing Seaport district in helping GE — as well as the city’s “culture” and its history of hosting major educational institutions and contributing to advances in technology and medicine — as reasons the company picked Boston.
GE announced this year it intends toleave its Connecticut facilityand move toa spot along Boston’s Fort Point Channel. The declaration came after the city offered a package of incentives that includes millions in tax breaks and infrastructure improvements.
Responding to questions about those enticements, Immelt said he believed GE’s presence in the city would have benefits that outweigh those costs to taxpayers — and framed those funds as an investment in GE’s promises.
“I think they took a bet on the GE team,” Immelt said. “My colleagues and myself are going to be dedicated to prove them right.”
Walsh also defended those incentives, saying GE’s move to a 300,000 square foot headquarters in Fort Point would lead to more tax revenues from the parcel of land. He also said a portion of a deal struck with the company that would allow it to use the space rent-free for up to 20 years would be a “net positive for our city.”
“These have been warehouses for many years with limited productivity and taxes in the low six-figures,” Walsh said. “They were not moving forward until General Electric knocked on our door.”
Walsh said partnerships with GE would have benefits for students in Boston schools and help invigorate technology education for youth in the city. He said one of those partnerships would be with the Madison Park Technical Vocational High School.
Earlier in the day, the company announced $50 million it would contribute over five years, including $25 million for computer science courses at Boston schools.
Meanwhile, scores of protesters on the State Street sidewalk drawing from a coalition of more than 30 local advocacy groups stood in wintry conditions to counter that narrative.
Protesters braving wintry conditions outside presser for GE. pic.twitter.com/S4ocIQHNAS— Spencer Buell (@MetroSpencer) April 4, 2016
Their slogan written on posters and shouted into microphonesis“Make GE Pay,” which is also a hashtag on Twitter.
“If GE wants to move here, they can move here, but the state and the city don’t have to give our tax dollars to facilitate that when there are so many other priorities,” Cole Harrison, executive director for Massachusetts Peace Action and a protest organizer, told Metro on Sunday.
The deal struck with GE includes $120 million from the state to help with building costs and $25 million in tax breaks from the city, as well as millions more in transportation upgrades — including the rehab of the now-closed Northern Avenue bridge.
Demonstrators also criticized GE for itseffortsto minimize its tax burden,its role in polluting and cleaning up a river in Western Massachusettsand its businessmanufacturing military equipment.
Activists also said they were upset the deal to entice GE came together behind closed doors, and that taxpayers did not have a chance to weigh in — this despite celebrations about a Republican governor and Democratic mayor working together fora bipartisan victory.
“We’re supposed to find this inspiring that they collaborated to make a great deal without our knowledge, consent or input?” said Eli Gerzon, of Jewish Voice for Peace. “That’s not really inspiring, because there are so many people and so many groups that were not at the table.”
GE arrives w/ techno-spiced promo vid hyping all-things Boston. pic.twitter.com/gI18mZUBjR— Spencer Buell (@MetroSpencer) April 4, 2016