General Electric Move Could Hurt Connecticut

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NBCConnecticut.com

The General Electric team examining where the company headquarters will be located will have an answer during the fourth quarter of the year, CEO Jeff Immelt told CNBC Thursday.

GE has been headquartered in Fairfield for 40 years and employs 800 people in Connecticut. The company has recently publicized plans to potentially leave the state.

"It means you want to be somewhere where people support job creation where it's attractive to talent, that it has a low cost of living and is very attentive to what a high-tech exporter is all about," Immelt said of looking at new locations for the GE corporate office. "It is a global battle that we're in and we need people that are on our side."

Connecticut lawmakers approved a budget last June with more than $1 billion in increased corporate taxes. Even though one of the taxes won't go into effect until the next fiscal year, GE expressed concern that such increases could lead the company's brass to reevaluate its relationship with the state it's called home for more than 40 years.

"We'd never do something like this carelessly or casually, but we're also quite intent on being aligned with where we go," Immelt added.

One man who helped to find homes for the original set of GE executives is William Raveis, the name on "for sale" signs across Connecticut.

William Raveis the company touts itself as the biggest residential realtor in the state. Raveis is based in Southport and has a significant presence in towns such as Westport, Easton and Ridgefield.

"I remember we moved in GE, and I remember GE gave a 14- or a 15-percent increase in their salary to people just by relocating here to Connecticut," Raveis said during an exclusive interview.

He said back in the 1980s when Connecticut became a corporate center, there were many reasons to move this part of New England.

"We didn’t have an individual income tax, the taxes were very low. The school systems are great. The people are great," Raveis said.

As a realtor, convincing people to purchase homes nearby without connections to GE made it even easier. The idea of GE was a selling point.

"It’s symbolic of what the state is. I mean, to have a world-class corporate headquarters in our state says this is a world-class state," he explained.

Now the possibility of GE leaving could leave a gaping hole in the hearts of people in Connecticut, as well as local budgets, according to Raveis. He predicts that other companies will take notice and avoid Connecticut if they consider relocating.

"Now if GE does leave, that basically is a death knell for us in terms of corporate movement into this state, and as a result of that, prices of housing will go down, the taxes will go up; it’s going to get worse," he said.

Raveis said he's also seen warning signs in his line of work.

"We have 41-percent market share in some of these high-end towns and some of the properties are languishing," he said. "The house has been there for a year or 18 months. It’s embarrassing that it’s been there that long."

Raveis is still committed to the state of Connecticut and said he plans on working to improve his business. He said he's hopeful Connecticut decision-makers find a way to convince GE officials to stay in a state they've enjoyed for four decades.

"We can't lose GE," Raveis said. "It will take us 10 years to recover."

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