Delaware Public Media

Governor's task force to study morphing economic development office

Jan 18, 2017

Private businesses could have a big hand in shaping Delaware’s economic development strategy in the near future.

As his first public act as governor, John Carney (D) signed an executive order to create a task force studying a public-private partnership that could either complement or replace the existing state economic development office.

“If we’re going to be successful and if we’re going to compete and we compete with bigger – just about all of them are bigger than us – we’re going to have to be smarter and we’re going to have to be quicker and we’re going to have to work together," Carney said.

Currently, DEDO hands out grants, loans or tax breaks to businesses in order to lure or retain jobs in the state, which has come under much scrutiny from state lawmakers in the recent past.

Known as the Strategic Fund, the General Assembly historically allocates $10 million or more each year.

Should any new group have a similar fund, it's unclear how much money private business would contribute.

Concerns about whether or not these private businesses could hand out grants, loans or tax breaks to allies or shut out potential competition are on the new governor’s mind.

But he says he thinks the economy has changed to a point where that might not be an issue, pointing to the financial services and banking industries.

Workers there, Carney says, often switch between companies, with deep talent pools for the businesses themselves to draw from.

“I think the economy today is more synergistic. There’s competition for sure, but workforce drives so much of it that I think having several or lots of businesses in the same area is a good thing.”

The group has support from the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce and the influential Business Roundtable, as well as bipartisan buy-in.

House Minority Leader Danny Short (R-Seaford) says his community, which once boasted a thriving nylon manufacturing plant, needs new ways to attract businesses to western Sussex County.

He says the parking lot of the old plant is down the street from his house. It used to hold 3,500 vehicles now only has about 150 workers.

“There used to be a traffic signal there. There used to be a stop sign. Neither one of them are there because there’s no traffic to go by,” Short said.

Current DEDO director Bernice Whaley will stay in her current position at least until the group issues its recommendations in April.

The 14-member group will include four appointed state lawmakers, four people chosen by the state chamber of commerce and one representative each from labor, nonprofits, higher education and the public.

Carney says he hopes the General Assembly acts on these recommendations before they recess at the end of June.