Downtown vs. Mason: Which site will claim GE Global Operations Center?

Broker: Banks project is front runner

CINCINNATI -- General Electric Co. will fill empty space in the Atrium II building downtown starting July 1, establishing a temporary home for its new U.S Global Operations Center, announced Thursday.

Does that mean the Banks riverfront development project should be considered a front-runner for the facility’s permanent home?

“It’s the Banks’ deal to lose,” said Scott Abernethy, senior vice president and principal at Cassidy Turley Commercial Real Estate Services.

GE and JobsOhio announced Thursday that the global manufacturing conglomerate will bring at least 1,400 new jobs to Ohio when it opens its “shared service” facility in the Cincinnati area. Sites in and near Hamilton County are being considered. Information technology, human resources and finance positions will fill the Global Operations Center, one of five being built by GE in Cincinnati, Poland, China, Mexico City and Saudi Arabia.

RELATED: GE consolidating, bringing 1,400 jobs to area

GE will begin moving employees to space formerly occupied by AT&T at 225 E. Fourth Street. That will give the company enough space to house several hundred employees as a new building is constructed.

Mason, Oakley Station and the Banks project are contenders for the project, according to people involved in the search. GE says only that it wants a high-profile site that can accommodate up to 2,000 employees.

“We’re going to look at surrounding counties outside of Hamilton County,” Joe Allen, a GE Aviation executive who was announced as the leader of the Global Operations Center Thursday. “We want to have an attractive location where you can bring in 1,400+ people. We want to make sure we have accessibility to parking and we want to have it so it’s a cost-competitive situation as well.”

Abernethy said downtown’s resurgence in residential housing and the Dunnhumby USA headquarters, now under construction at Fifth and Race streets, have created a buzz that GE will find hard to ignore.

“I think they’re thinking to themselves, ‘OK, we’re going to be recruiting a lot of people. Who are we recruiting?’ If I’m looking for young professionals, I’ve got to have downtown either at the top of the list or close to it,” Abernethy said.

One development source told WCPO that the business community has urged GE to select a site inside the city of Cincinnati, preferably downtown.That also weighs in favor of the Banks project.

But Mason Mayor Dave Nichols said CEOs in his town can make a strong argument for their city too.

“The two areas are really so much different in what they would offer,” said Nichols, former CEO of Interlott Technologies Inc. and Mason's mayor since 2011. “We have lots of available land, prime locations and we’re squeezed between two interstates. If you add in the quality of schools and the fact that we’ve got a very business-minded city council … we give people a run for their money.”

Then there is the issue of parking. Abernethy said for a deal to be done at the Banks, city officials will have to figure out a way to offer parking to GE employees for less than $100 a month. But no amount of parking subsidy can make Cincinnati's deal cheaper than Mason.

“I think we knock that one out of the ballpark,” Nichols said.

Whoever wins the site-search competition, many people argued Thursday that that GE's selection of Cincinnati for its shared service center will have a ripple effect on the region's economy, not just the local jurisdiction that claims the site.

“I get calls all the time (saying) ‘Hey, I want to be near the Kroger building’ from some of their vendors and clients,” Abernethy said. “That’s been happening for years with Procter & Gamble as well. So, having that type of GE facility here … it’s obviously not a headquarters but it certainly can’t hurt.”

Ohio Gov. John Kasich made a similar argument about the Cincinnati labor market.

"These are extremely important jobs," Kasich said in a video conference with reporters. "All the back office operations including things like IT and HR. It means there’s going to be tremendous opportunity for people in the Cincinnati area."

Nichols agreed that his town will benefit even if GE doesn't locate there.

“This will have a regional impact whether it’s at the Banks or up here,” he said. “This is a real win for Southwest Ohio.”