Fairfield was at the epicenter of the economic earthquake that hit Connecticut last week when General Electric announced it was moving it headquarters from the suburban town to Boston.
To some extent, the dust has now settled over the town of just more than 60,000 residents, and the community is looking to the future.
First Selectman Mike Tetreau said on Friday that the Jan. 13 announcement sent “shockwaves through the entire town” and that the nine days since the announcement have felt “like a month and a half.”
According to Tetreau, who won re-election in November, constituents have been calling his office frequently with concerns regarding Fairfield’s job market and the impact of GE’s departure on real estate values in town.
The good news for Fairfield is that the economic impact may not be as dramatic as initially thought. Moody’s analysts say that while GE’s move is a slight credit negative, the town’s diverse tax-base and “favorable long-term prospects” will negate any direct economic injury.
But according to Moody’s, the same can’t be said for Connecticut.
Moody’s analysts said the departure of GE — the state’s 20th largest employer with 4,300 employees, including about 800 at the headquarters in Fairfield — would negatively impact the state’s credit rating even though the revenue loss from moving 200 executives to Boston and relocating the other 600 to offices elsewhere in Connecticut would be “muted.”
“This is credit negative for Connecticut (Aa3 stable) and it underscores the challenges the state faces as its revenues and economy continue to underperform amid high fixed costs,” Moody’s wrote. “While this development is a slight credit negative for Fairfield, the town should be able to absorb the loss with its diverse tax base and favorable long-term prospects. For Boston, the GE relocation is a credit positive, exemplifying how the city’s innovation economy is attracting corporate entities.”
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said the Moody’s assessment “reflects poorly on Connecticut’s economy, tax policies, and business environment.”
But at least for Fairfield residents, analysts at Moody’s suggest the situation is not as dire as originally expected.
According to Moody’s, the town is socio-economically strong and geographically well-placed, and its tax base is not only diverse but large. GE’s property represents “a modest 0.7 percent of the tax base,” according to the credit rating company.
GE’s 68-acre campus was recently assessed at just over $76.5 million, making the company the town’s largest property holder and taxpayer. The company paid $1.8 million in taxes in 2015.
Tetreau admits that Fairfield will likely never be able to match the prestige that GE brought to the town but he is cautiously optimistic about the future of the property and the town’s ability to make up the lost revenue.
Tetreau said that last Saturday, a few days after the news broke, he met with Fairfield’s second largest property owner, Albert Kleban, whose Fairfield properties are worth $76.2 million. A real estate developer, Kleban expressed his desire to buy the GE property based on his concern that the vacancy could have a negative impact on local property values.
If Kleban’s plans come to fruition, according to Tetreau, the $130 billion company’s headquarters will be replaced with several new tenants that could increase the number of employees working on site and increase the property’s value. Kleban told the Fairfield Citizen that he hopes to turn it into a technology center with an educational component.
Tetreau, who was in daily contact with GE over the summer and fall, put Kleban in touch with current property owners and is now awaiting a meeting with a team that will manage the company’s move to Boston.
Tetreau dismissed the partisanship that has arisen over the move and concluded by saying that his job is to make sure that everyone in Fairfield is working with the same set of facts.
“There are some concerns, but we need to make sure we’re concerned about the right things,” Tetreau said.