• For city, relocation seen as sending message to world
  • `Our banner really is we are headquarters town,' Reed says

Atlanta and Georgia officials are prepared to propose lucrative tax breaks to try to lure General Electric Co.’s headquarters from Connecticut, and a decision may come next month, Mayor Kasim Reed said.

“We will be offering whatever is reasonable to get it done if we have the opportunity,” Reed said in an interview with Bloomberg News reporters in Atlanta. “Having one of the top 10 most important companies in the world put their logo over the city of Atlanta skyline is not just about the tax-break number. It is about what it says to the world.”

GE, the biggest U.S. industrial company, is nearing a decision on whether to exit its Fairfield home of more than 40 years after a months-long review spurred by a new Connecticut budget that raised taxes on companies and wealthy individuals. A move to Atlanta would buoy the city and build on Daimler AG’s January announcement that its Mercedes-Benz USA business would relocate there from New Jersey.

“Our banner really is we are headquarters town,” Reed said. If GE picks a site in the southern U.S., “I think it is going to be us. That is about as much as I can say. But we have robust competition.”

Headquarters Derby

GE’s stated openness to a new headquarters location has spurred overtures from political leaders in states including New York, Ohio and Texas. The company declined to comment on the deliberations about Atlanta, which people familiar with the matter said in August included exploratory talks about an office tower in the Buckhead district.

“When there is a final decision on relocation, we will communicate it publicly,” GE said in a statement that echoed its original disclosure in June that it was evaluating new sites.

As of August, GE had 4,900 employees in Connecticut, chiefly in the Norwalk offices of the GE Capital finance arm that the parent is shrinking to focus on manufacturing operations. About 800 workers were located in Fairfield.

Reed declined to say how many workers could be involved in any move.

Three Moves

“We are probably in the hunt for three major headquarters moves,” the mayor said. “Obviously because GE is one of the biggest companies in the world, they are getting a lot of attention. We are hearing again and again when we get in the hunt we are very competitive.”

Atlanta offers lower labor costs than the Northeast, a skilled workforce, access to world-class universities including Georgia Tech and Emory University, a concentration of health-care facilities led by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the world’s busiest airport, Reed said.

Besides Daimler’s Mercedes-Benz USA, Atlanta has attracted the headquarters of Porsche Cars North America and NCR Corp. in recent years. The city also already is home to the GE Energy Management unit.

Reed said it’s a mistake to believe lower costs are the main driver of moves.

“Millennials seem to feel the city is pretty cool and getting cooler,” and the reputation of local universities was reinforced by President Barack Obama’s recent praise during a visit to Georgia Tech, he said.

“A business like GE would want to come to Atlanta because I think Atlanta is a city of the future,” he said. “If you want a huge cultural shift, if you want to reduce long-term costs, if you want a more business friendly environment, you need to do nothing more than talk to the head of Mercedes-Benz USA” about its move.

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