A top General Electric official said Monday there's no guarantee the company will produce hundreds of new jobs with a digital technology center in Providence.
At the same time, Governor Gina Raimondo vowed the state will do its part to help the company strive toward the goal of creating much more than an initial 100 jobs in Rhode Island.
"GE Selects Rhode Island for Hundreds of New Tech Jobs" was the headline on a news release from the governor's office last Thursday. The state is expected to use about $5.65 million in incentives to attract an initial 100 GE jobs.
GE's chief financial officer, Jeffrey Bornstein, said it's not a certainty that hundreds of additional jobs will be created in Providence.
"We have to make that opportunity come," he said during a Statehouse news conference. "I think in terms of the art of the possible. I don't think there's any limit on what could be. This is all about what we and the community and the ecosystem and the State of Rhode Island do to take advantage of .... this is not an issue of demand. There is absolute demand for the kind of work that we'll be doing here. It's a question of where we can scale it up and make it real, and the faster we do that, and the more complete we do that, the bigger the opportunity will be."
Raimondo said, "GE has chosen to plant a flag in Rhode Island for what's at the center of their future growth .... the Internet of things, applications -- this is where their company's going, this is where the economy is going, and they've chosen us. Now it's on us to make sure that they have talent. The rate-limiting factor to growth is probably talent. I am confident that we -- that's why we have all of our college presidents here today, we have our head of Labor and Training -- we're going to deliver. If we deliver the talent, and we deliver the business climate that we will deliver, I think what you're hearing is, it's a limitless opportunity."
Bornstein said GE's decision to open a digital technology center at a yet-to-be-disclosed Providence location grew out of Rhode Island's attempt last year to become the site of the company's new headquarters. GE chosen Boston instead. He said Raimondo remained relentless in her pursuit of GE, joking that she had called him about 75 times.
"I can tell you that no state that I've interacted with over the last year has done a better job of putting their best foot forward than Rhode Island has," he said.
The governor, the state's congressional delegation, legislative leaders and Providence Mayor Jorge Elorza used the Statehouse news conference to hail the news about GE coming to Rhode Island, with Raimondo lauding the role played by each. The governor, in turn, was siginificantly credited for her involvement. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse called Raimondo the quarterback of the effort.
The news conference also functioned as an attempt to re-brand Rhode Island as a destination that has become more welcoming to business.
"Today we talk and recognize that our state has an incredible number of inherent strengths," said Senate Finance Chairman Daniel DaPonte (D-East Providence). "From exceptional quality of life to a strategic location along the Northeaster corridor, and home to some of the greatest academic institutions in the world. We've been working very hard over the past several years to not only improve the overall climate in the state, and make life better for Rhode Islanders, but in a particular way to improve the business and the economic climate in the state."
Raimondo said the state can be nimble, pointing to how a news conference featuring college presidents and members of Congress was pulled together in a few days. "When we decide we want to get something done, and we pull together, we get it done, and that's why GE has chosen us," she said.
Chris Drumgoole, chief technology officer for GE Digital, said the company's Providence office will focus on two things: designing end-use applications to help GE employees do their jobs better and to help increase efficiency in other fields, and analyzing massive data sets to generate new answers to existing questions.
GE is expected to begin hiring within the coming weeks for its Providence office.