General Electric Corporation’s announcement that it was moving its headquarters to Boston is big news for Boston and the region. Long known as a center for technology innovation in computers, health and life sciences, communications (Internet got going here as well as elsewhere, that’s the nature of a network) oh, and robotics, with world-class research institutions like Harvard and MIT, the decision has given Boston a new life reversing a trend of corporate departures many through acquisition. Dell is buying EMC, Digital, DG, and the other mini-computer companies are gone.
The Boston area last bloomed in the 1970’s and 1980’s as the center of the mini-computer revolution but all of these companies are gone as is the mini-computer but the infrastructure of technology innovation goes back at least to Alexander Graham Bell and the telephone, Samuel Morse an inventor of the telegraph and Morse code (a decent painter too) and many others. The first surgery with ether happened here too.
GE is coming to Boston because it wants to be a major player in the Internet of Things or what this New York Times article referred to as the industrial Internet. Good for them. Having GE here will re-energize the local economy and tap into some very bright minds, not just in engineering but in many other fields like medicine. As is typical, I’d expect a large community of spin-off companies to emerge and to need venture funding which will tap into another one of the area’s natural strengths. I also expect many Silicon Valley companies to start or beef up their presences here just because.
GE’s presence will also change Boston in unpredictable ways. Will the industrial Internet overtake biotech? Will the local software industry thrive or will it be supplanted by another wave of hardware builders? Where will people live and what will the influx of more talent and capital do to real estate prices? Will Cambridge, a hip enclave in the metro region come to resemble Palo Alto more? Who knows?
Last summer the voters put their collective foot down over hosting an upcoming summer Olympics. It was mostly due to the high projected costs and the IOC’s demand that the city and state backstop any cost overruns. When it was over Boston was a bit bruised and the Boston Globe putting what seemed like a brave face on the disaster at the time said, that’s Okay, we’re Boston, we cure cancer, we don’t host track meets. At the time it was cold comfort, today not so much.