Sara Bluhm, Economic Development and Community Engagement Administrator for the City of Milford provided City Council with an update on how the city’s economic development efforts were progressing. According to Bluhm, Milford’s economic growth continues to improve although additional efforts are necessary to encourage more businesses to locate or expand in Milford.
“Some economic development that is confirmed, of course we have the Milford Corporate Center on the Fry farm. We did secure $100,000 in site readiness funds. Our concept plan that we have renderings for and a community workshop is planned that Rob spoke about earlier for the end of this month,” Bluhm said. “A primary care office opened in the old Bayhealth Walk In Clinic right there on Jefferson Avenue. My Sister’s Fault was an EDGE grant recipient in 2022. So, they are planning to expand. They are purchasing the building that they are in and then they will expand to include more cold storage with their grant money. So that’s a that’s a good expansion for the downtown. The Milford Public Library, the commercial rental that they have across the street, I helped them bring that rent up to market rent rate after their previous tenants moved out. They were very underutilizing that space. So, they’re on a three year tiered plan now to bring that rent up to market rent.”
According to the 2021 State Planning Annual Report, Milford ranks third in nonresidential square footage constructed, trailing only Newark and Wilmington. Bluhm pointed out that the hospital significantly helped that but that the city was competing in the commercial market for non-residential square footage. The city also launched a website, GrowinMilford.com and the site will be featured on a billboard on Route 1 near Frederica.
“This year, I have attended 16 ribbon cuttings,” Bluhm said. “Ribbon cuttings are good. That obviously means expansion or brand new businesses in town. We have been doing short one-minute-ish videos of larger ribbon cuttings and now that Kent is on board, we will do more of those. It is kind of a courtesy to businesses. He did one at People’s Place last week and he interviewed the Executive Director and it think that is a great resource for the business as well.”
The city has applied for over $2.2 million in Transportation Infrastructure Investment Funds as well as $1 million in site readiness funds in order to create the entrance to the Milford Corporate Center. Bluhm explained that the city had assistance from Becker Morgan Group on that process and that it was fun to plan out over the next year, two years, three years and beyond that the project could move. She stated that the city would likely not know whether they received the funds until October.
“Milford Wellness Village still has vacant space, they have about 40,000 square feet left. I’ve been working with them,” Bluhm said. “Any business that comes to town that I think might fit their mission; I certainly send them that way. A downtown retail is looking at the old Milford Chronicle building that’s been vacant for quite some time. I’ve been working with that landlord and the code enforcement office to bring that building up to par and get a retail tenant. And then the Food Bank of Delaware, the facility that they’ll be vacating has been for sale for probably going on eight to 10 months at this point. It’s a wonderful industrial facility. And so, we’ve had several people interested in it and just continuing to try and find a potential buyer for them.”
Bluhm explained some of the economic development incentives offered by the city. These include the Greater Milford Business Complex Incentive Program, the Downtown Development District Incentive Program and the Citywide Job Creation and Capital Investment Program. According to Bluhm, nine businesses have utilized those incentives since January 2019, bringing over $60 million in investment into the town, creating almost 360 jobs and costing the city just $610,000 in incentives.
“So, for about 10 percent of your impact fee waivers, you have seen millions of dollars in investment,” Bluhm said. “Those are very worthwhile incentive programs, and we continue to push businesses that way.”
Code enforcement efforts had also improved, according to Bluhm and reports are available on the city website along with completed Downtown Development District projects. The city also established the downtown banner program with DMI and launched the My Milford app. There is also a community calendar that allows any organization to submit events. Social media operated by the city has also grown over the past year on sites that include Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Councilman Dan Marabello asked Bluhm if My Sister’s Fault had plans for the land they purchased at the corner of Southwest Front and Walnut Street.
“I don’t think they have any plans at the in the immediate future. They found out there was some tanks under there and there was a cost to get them removed or to remediate,” Bluhm said. “And I think they did receive great financing from the Sussex County Economic Development Office in order to purchase the building that they’re in. So, it worked out that they can do that and they still have that land next door but I don’t think they have any immediate plans.”
Councilman Jason James asked if Bluhm worked with the shopping centers, including Riverwalk Shopping Center, The Plaza and the shopping center where Food Lion was located. Bluhm stated that she did work with them, but they often did not reach out for help. She explained that in those type of centers, there was often a need for a full build-out inside a retail location which may be difficult for smaller businesses. Councilwoman Katrina Wilson asked about the closure of Furniture and More, questioning if Bluhm could state what might go in there.
“I am not privy to say at this time,” Bluhm said.”
City Planner Rob Pierce stated that Aldi was deep in construction at the present time and that they had completely gutted the interior. Councilman Marabello stated that he spoke to one of the construction people on the site and they told him they hoped to be open by Thanksgiving.
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