GE Move Also Means Loss Of Local Charitable Giving, Volunteers

Jan 27, 2016

In this Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016 photo, the sun shines on shops along Post Road in Fairfield, Conn. General Electric said Wednesday it will begin relocating its global headquarters from its suburban campus in Fairfield to Boston in the summer, and complete the move by 2018. General Electric’s relocation has many in Fairfield fretting over the loss of tax revenue, charitable spending, and the prestige that comes with being home to a $130 billion company.
Credit (AP Photo/Michael Melia)

As GE moves its global corporate headquarters to Boston this summer, local charities are worried. They think they’re about to see a drop in giving.

"It’s going to be a hard organization to replace,” said United Way of Coastal Fairfield County President and CEO Merle Berke-Schlessel. GE made up more than a quarter of her group’s annual donations – the company was by far their biggest supporter.

GE has played a central role in philanthropy in Connecticut, not just with the United Way. The company’s charitable foundation, the GE Foundation, was the state’s second biggest giver in 2013, the most recent year records are available. That year the company donated about $124 million in total.

GE gave the Stamford Public School system more than $25 million over the last 10 years. After the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, GE gave Newtown $15 million. They also took three full-time employees off their regular jobs and put them in Newtown’s municipal office to help the town.

Berke-Schlessel said that kind of thing will be the biggest loss – even more than money.

“People,” she said. “Their employees. They had a culture of giving that starts the day you are a new employee at GE.”

Top GE executives donate money individually, and they sit on the boards of dozens of Connecticut charities. They also volunteer their time. Every year hundreds of GE employees volunteer with Habitat for Humanity, spreading out across the city of Bridgeport, Connecticut and personally building houses from scratch.

“They could be painting, they could be putting up the walls, they could be helping us do the siding, they could be laying the floor work,” said Stuart Adelberg, the CEO of Habitat for Humanity of Coastal Fairfield County. “It’s really pretty inspiring.”

Adelberg said all those volunteer hours will be hard to replace once GE is gone.

“But I’m so grateful for the time that we have had with GE as a major corporate player and a good friend of this organization,” he said. “Obviously it’s sad to see a good friend go.”

Adelberg said it’s not clear yet what role GE will play in charitable giving in Connecticut once its highest-paid executives leave. The company is expected to have at least three facilities and hundreds of employees in the state, but those aren’t the company’s most powerful and highly paid corporate employees. They’re leaving for Boston this summer.