PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) – Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo said Tuesday the economic incentive package she dangled in front of executives at General Electric was similar to the deal they’re getting to move the company’s corporate headquarters to Boston.
The governor declined to say exactly how much the state was willing to offer General Electric to move to Rhode Island from Fairfield, Conn., but the multinational giant could receive as much as $140 million through state and city incentives and grants when it moves to Massachusetts.
“We used the full combination of our new tax incentives to put a very compelling deal in front of them,” Raimondo, a Democrat, said during a lunch meeting with reporters.
Raimondo said she’s still hopeful General Electric will add some jobs in Rhode Island, but indicated negotiations are ongoing. She said she expects to speak with executives from the company later this week.
The governor’s comments marked the first time she has openly discussed her negotiations with the storied company, which had 305,000 employees throughout the world and posted $149 billion in revenue in 2014. General Electric is expected to bring about 800 employees to its Boston headquarters in the city’s Seaport District.
So how did Rhode Island go from a longshot to one of three finalists to secure General Electric, along with New York and Boston?
It started with connections.
Raimondo serves on the Yale Corporation, her law school alma mater’s governing board. Another member of that board, Douglas Alexander Warner III, sits on General Electric’s board of directors. She asked Warner to set up a meeting.
“I said, just give us a chance to compete,” Raimondo said.
From there, the governor traveled to Fairfield to make her pitch to General Electric in person. In a PowerPoint presentation titled, “The R.I. Proposition,” she made the case that Rhode Island “offers a unique opportunity of a lot of skills but at a very low cost of living and lower cost of doing business.”
The presentation touted that Rhode Island has not raised its top income or cooperate tax since 1991 and hasn’t increased its sales tax since 1990 while explaining that the state has a higher exemption on the estate tax than Massachusetts. (GE first revealed last year it was considering leaving Connecticut after state officials there threatened to raise corporate taxes.)
In a series of slides, she pointed out that $900,000 can buy a 3,500-square-foot home in Barrington compared to a 1,800-square-foot property in Newton, Mass. For public schools, she noted that East Greenwich High School posts a higher average combined SAT score than Newton North High School. When it comes to private schools, she said the Moses Brown School offers a slightly cheaper, but comparable education to the prestigious Philips Andover Academy.
As General Electric began to narrow its list of possible destinations from as many as 40 locations, Raimondo said she asked every member of Rhode Island’s congressional delegation, a slew of business leaders and the presidents of Brown University, the Rhode Island School of Design and the University of Rhode Island to pitch in.
Raimondo said she held a dinner with executives from the company at Bacaro, the upscale Italian restaurant located on South Water Street in Providence. She said U.S. Sen. Jack Reed as well as several CEOs and college presidents attended the meeting. All were asked to sign non-disclosure agreements, she said.
“We were there at every step,” Raimondo said.
“Rhode Island’s was one of the strongest pitches of any states, and they were a finalist in our process,” Seth Martin, the company’s director of financial and corporate communications, said this month. “The governor and her team, along with Rhode Island’s delegation in Washington, led an outstanding process.”
Raimondo said she is in the early stages of talks to bring other businesses to the state, but acknowledged that none are “household brand names” like General Electric. She said she tries to make at the least three or four business calls each week.
One of her challenges: “I’m working against a perception issue, which is real,” she said.
Raimondo said Rhode Island doesn’t have a “well-known national brand,” but she believes the mindset is changing.
“The reality of Rhode Island is much better than, sometimes, the perception,” she said.