Sununu Claims He Could Have Closed Deal to Bring GE to N.H.

Dec 21, 2016

Credit NHPR Staff

During the campaign, Governor-elect Chris Sununu said he would make attracting companies to the state a top priority. He also promised to meet with 100 business leaders in his first 100 days in office. 

In a speech this week, Sununu says the current administration hasn’t worked hard enough to attract firms, and criticized officials for failing to land a big one, General Electric.

The Republican’s comments on the year-old General Electric decision seemed to come out of the blue.

When the company suggested in the summer of 2015 that it would consider relocating from its headquarters in Connecticut, there was a high profile fight among cities and states to woo the global firm.

New Hampshire, Sununu says, wasn’t aggressive enough.

“This state sent three bureaucrats down to go do a presentation,” he says. “I’m sorry, that was the wrong answer. And we lost the ability to bring GE’s international headquarters right over to the Seacoast. They wanted to be here. They wanted to be here. The only reason they didn’t come is because in that presentation, we were not delivering the message they wanted to hear.”

Sununu criticized the state for not sending commercial developers and other business leaders to close the deal.

One of the so-called bureaucrats who did make the sales call to GE was Governor Maggie Hassan.

“If that was his characterization, I would say he was highly misinformed,” says Hassan.

Hassan says she, along with the Chancellor of the University System and the Commissioner of the Division of Economic and Resource Development, made an appeal in person. During the conversation, she says GE leadership questioned whether the state had invested enough in higher education to meet its workforce demands, and it was concerned about New Hampshire having enough transportation infrastructure, including rail.

And then there were the financial incentives.

“I will say that one of the things we couldn’t compete with was Massachusetts paying GE $140 million to come to the state,” says Hassan.

In January, GE announced Boston as its new corporate home.

“New Hampshire doesn’t traditionally play in that space, in terms of offering major incentives,” says Jeff Rose, Commissioner of DRED. He adds that the state did all that it could, and put together a strong proposal.

And even if the state had somehow ponied up cash, there were other factors in the way.

“You know, when I looked out the window when I was in Connecticut, it was beautiful, awesome, great office. But when I looked out my window, I saw nothing, nothing. There was nothing going on,” says General Electric CEO Jeff Immelt. He was speaking at a conference in September, and added that he was looking for a specific type of landscape.

“At the end of the day, I think for the company, we wanted to get into a place where there was more of a, everyday you could get up and be part of an academic setting, so I think it was important to get to a city.”

That’s not exactly New Hampshire’s strength.

Under Immelt, GE is reinventing itself. While it still makes jet engines and generators, the firm is trying to be more innovative.

GE declined to comment on New Hampshire’s proposal for its headquarters. The company does employ hundreds of workers in the state already, including at an aviation plant in Hooksett

For his part, Governor-elect Chris Sununu says he’s looking forward to recruiting other businesses.

So far, he says he’s scheduled meetings in New York, Montreal and Woburn, Massachusetts.

NHPR's Josh Rogers contributed to this report.