Cities vie for GE facility

Montana State Roundup

Published September 1, 2007  | September 2007 issue

Since General Electric announced in May that it plans to open a 150-employee operations center in the state, communities from Missoula to Billings have been vying for the project. By July, according to news reports, the company had narrowed its list of potential locations to three or four cities, including Helena. The facility, for GE's Commercial Finance division, is slated to open next year.

GE executives said that the company was attracted to Montana by its quality of life and its educated, diligent workforce. But economic development directors in the candidate cities said that they considered economic incentives—tax breaks, subsidized rent and other financial carrots—key to landing the operations center.

Billings and Great Falls were believed to hold an edge over Helena because their economic development arms receive property tax funding, allowing them to offer richer incentive packages. In 2004, cable firm Bresnan Communications received $1.6 million in subsidies from Yellowstone County's economic development agency after the company promised to establish an operations center in Billings.

In making its pitch, each city must deal with a reality that may influence GE's decision more than financial come-ons: Montana's very low unemployment rate. In Billings, Missoula and Helena, the May unemployment rate was less than 2 percent—a potential turnoff for employers who rely on a steady supply of workers.

Phil Davies