GE packs up, markets Fairfield HQ with Boston move imminent | Crain's

GE packs up, markets Fairfield HQ with Boston move imminent

General Electric Co. is moving most of the workers out of its Fairfield headquarters this summer but some operations will continue to call Connecticut home.

The company will declare Boston its official corporate home next month, a spokeswoman said this week. “Packing my boxes now!” GE spokeswoman Sue Bishop wrote in an email Tuesday.

Of the 800 employees at the 66.8-acre Fairfield campus, about 550 will be moved to Norwalk by the end of October, according to Bishop. Between 150 and 200 employees will be moved to Boston this summer, she said.

Costs of the move are not being disclosed.

“Our plans to relocate our global headquarters to Boston are proceeding well,” Bishop said. “We will relocate to our temporary space in Boston this summer and to our permanent HQ campus in 2018.”

With the timeline in place, GE brought on real estate broker CBRE earlier this month to begin marketing the corporate campus at 3135 Easton Turnpike, Bishop said. The company, which has had its headquarters in Fairfield since 1974, announced in January it would move to Boston and sell its Fairfield property as well as offices it owns at Rockefeller Plaza in New York City.

Fairfield First Selectman Michael Tetreau on Tuesday said the town’s real estate market is holding up well since most of GE’s departing workers are spread across Fairfield County. The area’s nonprofit sector is getting hit the hardest because of the loss of GE’s charitable revenues and efforts, Tetreau said, calling GE “a phenomenal corporate citizen.”

The Fairfield property offers two Class A office buildings totaling about 500,000 square feet, plus a 28-room hotel that includes meeting rooms, two fitness centers, a medical center and walking trails. GE is not listing a price but the company’s Fairfield real estate has an appraised value of $84.4 million, according to Donald Ross, the town’s assessor.

There are parties interested in buying the headquarters and possibly redeveloping it, Tetreau said, although he declined to give any names or details.

GE has been Fairfield’s largest taxpayer every year for the past five years, except for 2011 when it was No. 2, Ross said. In the most recent tax year, the company’s total town tax bill was $1.8 million, the assessor said.

The Fairfield headquarters will be entirely vacant by year’s end, Bishop said.

The conglomerate in finance and manufacturer of healthcare devices, jet engines and power plant equipment is not completely leaving Connecticut, however. Its GE Capital, GE Treasury, GE Corporate, GE Energy Connections and GE Power operations will remain in the state, Bishop said.

GE Capital rents a complex at 801 Main Ave. in Norwalk, where the remaining Connecticut operations are being centralized. GE Treasury will be relocating to Norwalk, Bishop said.

GE also maintains operations in Stamford, but has been thinning that presence over the past decade, said Jack Condlin, president and CEO of the Stamford Chamber of Commerce. Condlin said he’s unsure how much of a hit Stamford will take.

“No matter how you slice it, GE leaving Connecticut is negative,” he said. “It’s going to have a direct negative impact on the communities that it had locations in.”

The chief reason GE’s leaving Connecticut is the state’s “very unstable financial future,” said Condlin, explaining that he based his conclusion on a speech GE CEO Jeffrey Immelt gave not long after the move to Boston was announced.

“That is what I find the most troubling,” he said. “Connecticut and Stamford will survive and we will prosper again but our government officials have to address some major issues that are not going to be easy or popular.”

Tetreau, meanwhile, attributed GE’s relocation to a changing business model.

“They’re becoming a more software-driven company,” he said. “Given that, you don’t need a big campus in Connecticut. You need those young people living in apartments in Boston and New York.”

In a March press release announcing that its new headquarters would be established in the Seaport District of Boston, GE praised Massachusetts for making significant investments in research and development as well as Boston’s “diverse, technologically fluent workforce.”

GE’s purchase of land and structures in Boston, including two historic buildings, is proceeding on schedule with closings expected later this year, Bishop said. Employees will be located temporarily at a facility on Farnsworth Street in Boston with a full move completed in several steps by 2018, the company said.

July 19, 2016 - 4:38pm