Fairfield Assesses What GE Move Means For The Town

Jan 14, 2016

This Nov. 7, 2002, file photo, shows the General Electric Co., corporate headquarters campus in Fairfield, Conn. General Electric announced Wednesday, Jan. 13, 2016, it will move its headquarters from Fairfield to the Seaport District of Boston.
Credit (AP Photo/Bob Child, File)

The multi-national corporation General Electric announced they’ll move their global headquarters to Boston, Massachusetts, this summer. They’ll be leaving Fairfield, Connecticut, where they’d been based for more than 40 years. The local damage will go beyond the loss of 800 jobs.

Michael Musto owns an upscale steakhouse on the Post Road, Fairfield’s de facto Main Street. He’s been here about four years. Musto said a lot of his regulars are GE employees. He said they like to have their after-work parties at his restaurants.

“They bring in six, eight, ten, twelve people, typically," he said. "They spend a little bit of money here, and they’re always nice. Corporate money is nice in a job like mine.”

Many of those corporate employees make at least six-figure salaries. And later this year, they’ll be leaving for Boston. Some people in Fairfield and its neighboring towns are worried, like Fairfield First Selectman Mike Tetreau.

“You’ve got a group of people that are probably in the higher income levels, tend to eat out more, tend to probably spend more dollars per person in our shops than elsewhere, so that’s going to impact all the way through,” he said.

GE ranks in the top ten of the Fortune 500. The company spends up to 14 billion dollars on goods and services provided by Connecticut companies -- companies that employ everyone from limo drivers to the photographers who take pictures for staff ID badges.

“They’re going to be asking, 'what happens to our business? Do we lay people off? Do we have to find new businesses to service?'" Tetreau said.  "So there may be some collateral damage as part of that.”

Tetreau said he’s worried about what will happen to real estate values when the homes of GE employees headed to Boston go on the market, some of them multi-million-dollar properties in nearby parts of Fairfield County, one of the wealthiest counties in the country.

“Every town, in essence, is going through this. How many are here? How many will be moving, or laid off and have to sell their home?" he said.  "What’s that’s going to do to the real estate market? And once it impacts that real estate market, it suggests that’s going to impact everybody.”

GE moved to Fairfield from New York City in 1974 at a time when crime rates were rising in the city. Industry analysts say the company wanted a more stable environment. Back at the restaurant, Musto says he’s worried about what will happen if other companies follow GE’s lead and leave Fairfield. He doesn’t want to see the town become an economic ghost town.

“Because, you know, there’s a lot of good restaurants, a lot of good businesses, it’s a clean town, it’s a safe town," he said. "And I hope it’s not a huge setback.”

After GE leaves this summer, two of the biggest companies remaining in Fairfield will be tea maker Bigelow and firearms maker Sturm, Ruger and Company.