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Videos

Why GE Moved to Boston, According to Its CEO

“You’re in the middle of an ecosystem that quite honestly for a big company, it makes you afraid.”

At The Atlantic’s Washington Ideas Forum Wednesday, the Aspen Institute’s Walter Isaacson asked Jeff Immelt, the chairman and CEO of General Electric, why the company decided to move its headquarters from Bridgeport, Connecticut, to Boston earlier this year. In his answer, Immelt touched on an idea that will be familiar to anyone who has followed Richard Florida’s work on the creative class, especially the dynamic between where good jobs tend to concentrate and where college graduates live.

Check out the video for yourself, or read the transcript below:

Immelt: You know, we wanted to get to a city. At the end of the day, I think for the company we wanted to get into a place where there was more of an every day where you could get up and be part of an academic setting. So I think it was important to get to a city.

Isaacson: The Atlantic has written about that a lot, this amazing 20-year transformation of America where sort of the creative class and then—

Immelt: I have to say it’s real. I thought it was a little bit of B.S. initially, I wasn’t sure. And 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, there was nothing going on. I could watch cars go on the highway, things like that.

I’ve been Boston now six weeks and you just walk out the door. You’re in the middle of an ecosystem that quite honestly for a big company, it makes you afraid. You’re where the ideas are. You get more paranoid when you’re doing that and that’s a good thing. So I thought it was—

Isaacson: Only the paranoid survive!?

Immelt: No, no. It’s a good thing. When you’re a big company, it can get hidden but it’s important that you’re in touch with what the next idea is or what the next disruption is. And so I’m kind of a big believer that that’s the wave of the future.

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