Bridgewater may get state incentives to stay in Westport
When Bridgewater Associates scuttled plans to build a new waterfront headquarters in Stamford last year, it was a blow to the city. But, it turns out, it’s still a win for the company.
The world’s largest hedge fund, Bridgewater may reap nearly half the state’s original $115 million incentive package — $52 million in aid and tax breaks — to stay in Westport, Hearst Connecticut Media has learned. The deal needs the approval of the State Bond Commission.
The proposal would require Bridgewater, which is planning a half-a-billion-dollar renovation project on its two campuses in Westport, to create about 1,000 jobs.
Part of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s 2011 economic-incentive plan to lure new companies and retain the state’s major employers, including Bridgewater, the First Five Program is flexible enough to accommodate a company’s change in circumstances, said Catherine Smith, commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development.
“The renovations to the two campuses in Westport requires a lot of capital costs, including good and services, everything from dry wall to HVAC,” Smith said, adding that much of the state’s support would come from long-term bonding.
The incentive package includes $30 million in industrial site tax credits over 10 years; $2 million in job-training; and $3 million in alternative energy installations. It also includes a $17 million direct loan, which is forgivable if Bridgewater creates 750 high-paying jobs, in addition to the 200 employees who have been hired since Bridgewater dropped its Stamford plans in July, 2014.
Bridgewater officials did not return a request for comment.
The company is planning a short-term relocation of its highly paid employees to office space in Stamford, which has a city-wide commercial-vacancy rate of 25 percent.
Malloy’s administration is using similar enticements to try to keep multinational General Electric’s headquarters in Fairfield as it threatens to leave Connecticut because of its taxes.
But he objected to the $52 million incentive for Bridgewater, saying the money would be better spent in a small-business loan program aimed at helping companies with 10 employees or fewer.
“I never thought we should be giving any money to a hedge fund let alone one of the most-successful in the world, with a billionaire CEO to whom $52 million is a rounding error,” Fasano said. “I’m embarrassed to say we’re giving $52 million to a hedge fund. I think it’s ridiculous.”
Fasano said the First Five has been more of a failure than success, with companies such as the Back9Network, a golfing channel, taking millions in aid before failing.
Smith, a former Aetna executive who was CEO of ING U.S. Retirement Services when Malloy appointed her in 2011, said that there’s a complicated calculus of jobs, costs and economic benefits taken into account under the First Five Program, which has expanded to about 15 companies.
It’s not the first time the First Five Program has accomodated a company’s change in plans. Smith cited a green-technology firm from Australia that had originally looked to a North Haven location, but shifted to northern Connecticut. “We’ll be patient with a company like that,” Smith said.
“What is the return to the state in income taxes, sales taxes, employees in the state?” Smith said. “We make sure that what our package gives back to the state exeeds our capital.”
Smith said the local opposition after the demolition of a popular Stamford boatyard joined other factors in Bridgewater’s decision to stay put.
“It’s hard to give you the exact reasons, but I think if you look at the time line, Bridgewater is a fast-growing company and needed space to expand,” Smith said. “At some point you have to fish or cut bait.”
Led by Ray Dalio, of Greenwich, Bridgewater has about 1,500 employees and manages $169 billion. The Stamford move was announced in August, 2012.
Supporting financial services, wherever they are located in the state, is to state’s advantage, said Joe McGee, vice president for public policy and programs at the Business Council of Fairfield County. The high-paying jobs that yield higher-than-average state income taxes are important to the state economy, he said.
“These are bond dollars and the price of bonding is still historically low,” said McGee, a Republican who headed state economic development in the early 1990s under Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. “When you do the analysis they cost very little and pay themselves back very quickly.”
According to Jobs-Salary.com, the average pay at Bridgewater is about $121,000.
McGee recalled that the Bridgewater proposal in Stamford encountered bad timing, including a Christmas Eve demolition of a popular boatyard in the Shippan neighborhood and the 2013 mayoral race won by current Mayor David Martin.
“The issue of taking down the boatyard really did trigger an enormous backlash,” McGee said. “There was a feeling that the developer was not playing by the rules that created a toxic brew. We were stunned that the city would turn down Bridgewater. It affected the mayoral race and there is still a legacy of that decision that’s affecting the broader development of the South End.”
As financial services have constricted in both Stamford and Manhattan, McGee said, Bridgewater becomes even more important.
“What the workforce pays in taxes is the critical component,” McGee said. “I think it would have been a feather in Stamford’s cap to have Bridgewater here, but they are still in Westport and they’re growing.”