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It was a front page headline, and it should be. Bringing General Electric’s headquarters to Boston is huge news for our city. There’ll reportedly be 800 jobs right away — doubtless many more to come. As media have pointed out, GE’s move will surely bring sundry other tech-savvy firms to our city.
Some observers credit the presence of Governor baker and his budget-dsicipline agenda or GE’s decison. I applaud Governor Baker, but I don’t see his presence as the cause. I see it and GE’s decision as evidence of these facts :
First, Boston is booming economically and wants to get things done, effectively and well-managed, so that our economy doesn’t face unnecessary obstacles, impediments, contradictions. That’s what Baker is about, and is implementing, and that’s how GE operates, too.
Second, Boston is home to 55 colleges — as GE’s press release mentioned — and world-class technology expertise; and that community of knowledge and innovation, and the ability to make creativity doable are the zeitgeist which generated Baker’s win and GE’s commitment.
Both GE and Baker will now have to see that GE’s presence fuliulls its promise. For GE, the job is under control. The firm merely needs to do what it has already done, with few missteps, ever since Thomas Edison founded it : innovate diligently, exhaustively. Edison is credited with having said that “genius is one tenth inspiration and nine tenths perspiration.” GE well knows how to translate that axiom into successful gadgets.
Baker has by far the harder task ahead. GE’s coming will surely boost Boston’s already high median family income and add to upward pressures on rents and other prices. What will happen to workers not in the technology or GE sphere ? More than ever the $ 15/hour minim um wage is now going to be needed — maybe higher. Will the Governor support an initiative that already has substantial push ? maybe so. I hope he so decides.
That part is the easier for him. Much more difficult is the pressure that GE’s decision puts on the economies of our outlying cities — our so-called “gateway cities.” Boston has already made places like Worcester, Fall River, Spingfield, Fitchburg, and Holyoke look backward. GE’s move widens the gap between them and Boston. Can GE’s move hold any benefit at all or the economies of cities 40, 60, 100 miles from Boston ? I’m not sure how or if.
Yet if GE’s move does not benefit — in some way — our outlying cities, the prosperity gap between them and Boston will widen. Perhaps Baker — and his Secretary of Ecionmoc Development, Jay Ash — c an convince GE to construct some manufacturing facilities in the outlying area. GE once operated a vast factory complex in Pittsfield, a city that has gone through bankruptcy since and needs what GE still has.
That, to me, is the essential. I’m glad, as everyone is, that GE is moving its headuarters tio Boston; but we cannot allow the move to aggravate an income gap already at crisis level.
—- Mike Freedberg / Here and Sphere