By Terry Rogers
On Wednesday, January 13, 2016, the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Milford held their Annual Legislators Luncheon at the Rookery North in Milford. Several members of the local legislature spoke about challenges facing leadership and how they felt those challenges should be met. In addition to information presented by the legislators, CCGM announced a new economic development program that would be launched in February 2016.
“We have formed the Greater Milford Economic Development Commission,” said Dave Hitchens, a member of the CCGM Board of Directors. “This commission will work to attract new business and retain current businesses in the city of Milford. Our primary goal is to increase visibility for the town and make Milford a destination for new job creation. The commission will be made up of public and private partnerships.”
Bernice Whaley, Cabinet Secretary for the Delaware Economic Development Office, said that she was excited to hear about the new commission. Ms. Whaley said that she was especially proud of the success of the Project Pop-Up businesses in Milford who had not only succeeded, but had also grown to the point most of them had to move to larger facilities within a year. Mayor Bryan Shupe echoed Ms. Whaley, saying that he was very excited to learn that CCGM was focusing on economic development in the city.
“Not only is Bayhealth building a new campus in Milford, but Nemours is also moving onto that campus,” Mayor Shupe said. “They will provide pediatric and geriatric care right here in Milford, helping us to become a regional player in healthcare. Currently, the city is working on incentives and other items that will encourage business growth in Milford. We are moving forward with methods to promote the business park for businesses looking to grow and expand as well.”
Senator Gary Simpson talked about revenue predictions for the state, saying that the Delaware Economic Financial Advisory Council (DEFAC) recently learned that instead of the deficit they were expecting, the state expects to see a $150 million in excess revenue mostly from corporate and individual income taxes.
“Business is doing better than we expected,” Senator Simpson said. “However, it was recently announced that DuPont has merged with Dow and it appears that as many as 1,700 high-paying jobs will be eliminated. This is going to cause some issues with our economy as it is difficult to replace a salary in the $125,000 range. There is a bank that has announced it is moving to Delaware with 1,500 jobs, but these are not going to be at the salary level as those lost due to the DuPont merger.”
Representative Harvey Kenton said that healthcare and education were top on his list of priorities for the upcoming year. Representative Kenton said that one-third of the state’s budget covered Medicaid as there were 235,000 people in the state on medical assistance programs. He also said that education made up one-third of the budget. He said that funding remained a top priority in the state as, too often, legislators were too quick to spend money when the state was not in deficit, rather than put it aside.
“The best thing is that, by law, we must pass a balanced budget in the state of Delaware,” Representative Kenton said. “We also are only allowed to spend up to 98 percent of our revenue, which keeps us in sound economic shape.” Representative Dave Wilson said that he wanted the legislature to look at the costs of permits to open a new business as many of his constituents have informed him that it is almost too cost prohibitive to start a business in the state today, unlike when he and his wife opened their business many years ago. He said this limits job growth in the area.
James Waddington of the Kent County Economic Development Office said that Milford met what he liked to call the “Four Fs of Economic Development.” The first “F,” festivals, were well represented by Milford with the Bug and Bud Festival, Brewfest, Riverwalk Freedom Festival and more, all of which draw tourists to the area. The second “F,” factories, Mr. Waddington said were one of the reasons the area didn’t suffer from the recession as much as other areas, with companies like Perdue who were able to expand when other companies were suffering. Food, the third “F,” is demonstrated in the strong agriculture community that surrounds Milford. Mr. Waddington said that the canneries, basket factories and other industries in the area that supported agriculture were another reason Milford and the surrounding areas have been thriving for many centuries. The fourth “F”, flight, was related to the economic impact created by Dover Air Force Base and the Georgetown airport, both of which promoted growth in the area.
“I should also add a fifth “F” to my list,” Mr. Waddington said. “Family fun is another critical part of growth in this area. With the new sports complex planned just north of Milford and the expansion of the Boys and Girls Club system throughout the state, we will see even more efforts to make Delaware a family-friendly location.”
In addition, Melody Booker-Wilkins, Director of Economic Development for Sussex County, Eric Buckson, Kent County Levy Court and Joan Deever, Sussex County Council, spoke to those in attendance about economic growth throughout Kent and Sussex County.