Editorial: The lesson from GE, Lego departures from CT

A Lego Death Star on display at the Ferguson Library in Stamford in 2020.

A Lego Death Star on display at the Ferguson Library in Stamford in 2020.

Tyler Sizemore, Staff Photographer / Hearst Connecticut Media

Seven years later, the departure of General Electric from its longtime Connecticut home remains the benchmark against which all other corporate relocations are measured.

GE made sure it was all about GE. The company went through an extended public process of seeking suitors around the nation. It made sure its pain was clear to everyone. It warned about Connecticut’s fiscal situation, even as it later confirmed that it had started looking for a new home long before the budget problems that led to its initial complaints. (Also, as a side note, GE hardly paid the state any taxes.)

When it finally finished its drawn-out decision-making process, GE announced it was moving to Boston. This made sense on some levels, but also disrupted some established storylines. Even with tax breaks from Massachusetts, GE wasn’t going to save any money moving one state away. And it certainly wasn’t going to find a lower-cost workforce in one of the nation’s highest-cost cities.

In the end, little of that mattered. GE is today a shell of its former self, and its splashy harborfront headquarters was never built. Few mourn its departure from Fairfield.

All of which brings us to Lego.

The Denmark-based toymaker has long had its North American headquarters in Enfield, but announced this week that it would be moving to Boston — yes, Boston — by 2026. There are no layoffs planned, but it will mean upheaval for many workers. The company has been in Enfield nearly 50 years.

Lego announced its plan without a “Bachelorette”-style wooing process. And though few would have predicted GE’s calamitous future, it seems safe to say that Lego will remain a giant in the toy industry far into the future. Like GE, Lego is not leaving Connecticut to save money.

State officials have been trying to spin the Lego move as a temporary setback in a state enjoying an economic comeback, and there’s some reason to believe that version of events. But Lego, like GE, does offer lessons.

Major companies aren’t leaving Connecticut for low-cost states like Alabama or Louisiana. They want highly educated work forces, which Connecticut has.

They also want what Connecticut doesn’t have, which is a city. Boston looms large in our state’s economic future for all the wrong reasons. Though it’s convenient that Connecticut offers easy access to major metropolitan areas like New York and Boston, there’s nothing like being there.

Cities are major drivers of economic success, and Connecticut can’t compete in that arena. Our cities are small, and to the extent that they attract major employers, it’s not on the scale of New York or Boston. We are always going to come up short in that department, no matter how much Stamford or New Haven grow.

That doesn’t mean we stop trying. Connecticut has many economic challenges, but developing our cities to attract the interest of major companies must be top of mind. We have plenty to offer, but don’t always do the best job of advertising our advantages.

Companies are telling Connecticut what they want. It’s up to us to listen.