GE To Soon Tour Atlanta As Part Of HQ Search

Roger Tutterow
Roger Tutterow

KENNESAW, Ga. (Sep 29, 2015) — General Electric representatives are expected to tour metro Atlanta early next month, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has learned, as the Fortune 500 giant marches toward a decision whether to move its headquarters out of Connecticut.

Were Georgia to land GE, it would be the state’s biggest headquarters recruitment since UPS left Connecticut for Sandy Springs in the early 1990s. It also would follow the headline-grabbing relocation earlier this year of the U.S. headquarters of Mercedes-Benz to a future campus in Sandy Springs.

Gov. Nathan Deal was mum on the timing of the visit, saying only that he welcomes the visit with open arms. Two people with knowledge of the plans said the visit will happen in early October.

A spokesman for GE, which makes jet engines, locomotives, power systems and other heavy industrial machinery, would neither confirm nor deny the visit.

“We have formed an exploratory team to assess the company’s options to relocate corporate headquarters,” he said in a statement. “The team is currently engaged in the process and is taking many factors into consideration. When there is a final decision on relocation, we will communicate it publicly.”

The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that GE plans to make a decision whether to move by year’s end.

State and local economic development officials are expecting to pull out all the stops to show off the metro region. If the recruitment of Mercedes-Benz is any guide, it will likely include not only visits to office towers and potential development sites, but also meetings with school officials and tours of executive and workforce housing.

During the recruitment of Mercedes’ U.S. headquarters, the recruitment pitch also included one-on-one time with some of metro Atlanta’s other Fortune 500 CEOs.

“We hope that GE will do as many other major companies have done, and believe that Georgia is the best place for them to have their home office,” Deal said. “We just try to show them the things that we can offer to them that we have offered to other companies, and just put our best foot forward. Hopefully they will make a decision to come our way.”

Other top contenders include Connecticut, which is exploring measures to convince GE to stay, and New York, which is pitching a short cross-border move that would make it easier for the 800 or so workers at its headquarters. But more than 25 states reportedly have expressed interest, with about a dozen sending officials to Connecticut to invite GE’s consideration.

CEO Jeffrey Immelt first expressed interest in potentially leaving Connecticut earlier this year, citing state lawmakers’ plans to raise taxes to plug a budget hole. GE’s search could be aimed at getting Connecticut officials to back off.

How many jobs might be involved if the headquarters is at play isn’t clear. It’s likely that any formal recruitment would turn into a bidding war and include a heavy dose of state and local financial incentives, such as grants and tax credits related to job creation.

Business climate and tax rates are major concerns for companies, but air service, quality of life and other factors also are crucial, Kennesaw State University economics professor Roger Tutterow said.

GE has significant ties in Georgia, including more than 5,000 workers in several divisions. GE Energy Management and GE Power Generation Services are based in Georgia. John Rice, a vice chairman and chief of global operations, has a residence in Buckhead.

Bloomberg recently reported that GE might consider developer Tishman Speyer’s Three Alliance Center tower in Buckhead. Meanwhile, developers — including the owners of Atlantic Station and the former General Motors plant in Doraville — have floated renderings to the media of possible towers with GE’s logo splashed across the upper floors.

The half-empty Bank of America Plaza, Atlanta’s tallest skyscraper, is another potential site of interest.

Deal has leaned on leaders of Atlanta’s biggest corporate players – such as Delta, UPS and Georgia Power – to speak executive-to-executive with GE leaders.

“We don’t present unrealistic expectations. We tell them what we have, and I think what we have is very impressive,” said Deal. “They are a top quality company and we would be honored to have them in our state.”

Bloomberg reported in August that Dallas had been eliminated from consideration because of the Texas congressional delegation’s ardent opposition to the Export-Import Bank, a government chartered institution that helps companies finance the sale of goods to foreign buyers. GE supports renewing the bank’s charter.