On Tuesday October 18, 2016, Governor Jack Markell visited Milford for the Annual Governor’s Luncheon hosted by the Chamber of Commerce of Greater Milford. At the luncheon, Governor Markell discussed job growth in the state and made suggestions for how jobs could be increased not only throughout Delaware but in Milford specifically.
“You guys have such a great city and I think it is just going to get better,” Governor Markell said. “You have a great Mayor in Bryan Shupe. I’m not allowed to choose favorites among the mayors in the state, but I can tell you that you have a great one.” Governor Markell began his presentation by talking about job growth throughout the state.
Since he took office in 2008, at the height of the recession, Governor Markell said that, by 2014, the state had regained all of the jobs lost during the recession and that the unemployment rate had dropped to 4.3 percent. He said he was proud that Delaware consistently outpaced all other states in the area for job growth. He also said that the unemployment rate gets a lot of attention, but that there is a “trick” that citizens and businesses need to be aware of in order to better understand the rate.
“States can actually see their unemployment rate go down,” Governor Markell said. “This happens when the economy is not doing well and people get discouraged. Many of them simply stop looking for work. However, if you look at the Labor Force Participation rate which indicates people returning to the workforce, you can see that Delaware not only lowered their rate, they did so by getting people back to work. From 2012 to 2014, our median household income grew at the second fastest rate in the country and over the past few years, our weekly wages grew the fastest in the nation.”
Governor Markell said that it is important to give “credit where credit is due” regarding job growth in the state. He credited small businesses and entrepreneurs who invest their own “sweat, equity and money” to create jobs. He agreed that there is a role that government must play in order to create an environment that encourages businesses to grow to the point they need to hire. One of the things that businesses need are an educated workforce, Governor Markell said.
“We have created a program called ‘Pathways to Prosperity,’” Governor Markell said. “The program allows juniors and seniors to take 600 hours of classes at an institute of higher learning. They graduate with a high school diploma and college credits under their belt. What is even more important is that the students receive a certificate that proves they can do the job. We recently graduated the first class of 27 students who were trained in the basics of manufacturing. Today, we have 6,000 students enrolled who are able to choose not only the basics of manufacturing, but allied health, agricultural production, culinary arts and more. Many of them will have summer jobs at a Delaware employer using a skill they are being taught in the program. This is an example of providing employers with the skilled workforce they need in today’s increasingly global market.”
Governor Markell pointed out that Milford was recently awarded a Downtown Development District designation. He explained that his office started the program several years ago as an opportunity to improve downtown areas and encourage development that would preserve downtown areas. He said that the three cities initially awarded the designation, which included Wilmington, Seaford and Dover, saw significant improvement in their downtown area since the designation. A 36-unit housing project was almost finished on the Nanticoke River in Seaford and a second unit was going to break ground soon because of the designation. Market Street in Wilmington has been completely transformed and the downtown area of Dover has seen significant improvement.
“This program focuses not only on new construction but also rehabilitation,” Mayor Bryan Shupe said. “The projects we have seen so far are Touch of Italy being able to move into the bank. We will soon be discussing a building project on the MIspillion across from Arena’s that will be a mixed-use project. The plan is for restaurants and retail on the ground floor with housing above it. One of the best things to come out of the DDD is that the Lou’s Bootery building is under contract. I had been preparing people for a demolition due to the condition of the building. Because of the incentives available through the DDD, the new owner will be able to preserve the building.”
The idea of the program, Governor Markell said, is to take a small amount of public money and leverage additional private money to improve downtown districts. He said that since the program began, $14 million in public funds has resulted in $240 million from private investors. He said that it was interesting to see how a $600,000 refund on the back end of a project meant the difference between a $10 million project being completed or not.
When asked what Milford could do to encourage more businesses to locate in the area, he said that there were six things that businesses seek when deciding to locate.
“Employers want a skilled workforce and they want to be where the schools are good,” Governor Markell said. “They want to be where it is affordable. In other words, utilities, real estate, labor costs and a responsive government must be adequate. They want a strong connection between higher education and the local business community. They want a good quality of life. People want to live in the same area they work. They don’t want to commute. If you create a city that has all of these things, you will see more business growth.”