Kent Economic Profile unveiled with peek at future

 

From left, Delaware State News managing editor Andrew West, Delaware State University professor Dr. Noureddine Melikechi, Delaware State News publisher Tom Byrd and Kent Economic Partnership director Jim Waddington unveil the 2016 Kent Economic Profile at the Delaware Agricultural Museum on Tuesday morning. The publication features the Delaware State University’s Optical Science Center for Applied Research building on its cover. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

From left, Delaware State News managing editor Andrew West, Delaware State University professor Dr. Noureddine Melikechi, Delaware State News publisher Tom Byrd and Kent Economic Partnership director Jim Waddington unveil the 2016 Kent Economic Profile at the Delaware Agricultural Museum on Tuesday morning. The publication features the Delaware State University’s Optical Science Center for Applied Research building on its cover. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

DOVER — The release of the 2016 Kent County Profile brought together almost 90 people at the Delaware Agricultural Museum and Village on U.S. 13 Tuesday to celebrate economic gains in 2015 and take a peek at the future.

It also put the spotlight on what Bill Andrew, chairman of the Kent Economic Partnership, said is Kent County’s greatest resource: “It’s people.”

The 60-page glossy magazine looked to the eye-catching prism-shaped jewel on Delaware State University campus for inspiration for both its theme — “A Reflection of Progress in Kent County” — and cover.

The Optical Science Center for Applied Research opened in the fall of 2015.

“2015 was the year of light. That wasn’t by accident,” said Dr. Noureddine Melikechi, founder of the optics department at Delaware State University. “Light plays an important role in many areas, in manufacturing, in homeland security … in cybersecurity.”

First published in 2010, the annual economic profile of Kent County is a collaboration between the Delaware State News and the Kent Economic Partnership, an advisory board to Levy Court, the county’s governing body.

The profile examines local business interests, provides contact information for municipal offices and offers resource information, said Delaware State News publisher Tom Byrd, who served as master of ceremonies for the unveiling.

The profile also highlights future economic viability and opportunity within Kent County.

It soon will be available at www.kentcountyprofile.com.

Delaware State University's Dr. Noureddine Melikechi said the optics center, and the university, wants to be a player in company development, (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

Delaware State University’s Dr. Noureddine Melikechi said the optics center, and the university, wants to be a player in company development, (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

During Tuesday’s presentation Dr. Melikechi put the focus on the applied science part of the Optics Science Center’s name. He hopes Delaware State University can be a leader by taking a bigger role in putting science to work.

“What we want to do is be a player in company development,” he said.

He and the center’s people want to explore how the components of research can be used in business development.

“Hopefully for companies based in Kent County,” he said. “I invite everybody to offer input in what the center can do to help Kent County.”

Signs of progress

Sometimes progress comes on silent wings, as in the case of Dover Air Force Base. With personnel at 6,400 and an impact of $630 million, the base continues to be a major driver in Kent County’s economy. Once completed, the ongoing $98.3 million runway project will help expedite the base’s ability to move cargo around the world.

“The only downside is I miss the daily air shows of C-5s overhead,” said Delaware State News managing editor Andrew West during his presentation of the year’s headlines.

The base’s workhorse cargo planes have been shifted from Dover while the 70-year-old Runway 01-19 is replaced.

It’s not just airplanes that will be able to move more efficiently in the coming years.

Several road projects aim to improve the driving experience in Kent County. In addition to work on U.S. 13 in the Camden area, various Del. 1 interchanges — at Thompsonville, Little Heaven, South Frederica and Northeast Front Street in Milford — are in the works.

Meanwhile, drivers along New Burton Road are witnessing the West Dover Connector road take form. That road will provide a more direct route from west Dover to south Dover. The 3.6-mile road is expected to open in May 2017.

Mr. West shared a quote by Delaware Department of Transportation Secretary Jennifer Cohan: “We’re going to spend a quarter of $1 billion in Kent County over the next six years.”

Those roads should help visitors get two different venues that will be in play by next year. Once completed in early 2017, the county sports complex DE Turf is expected to generate a $30 million impact on the county. The $25 million project will sport 12 fields for soccer, lacrosse and field hockey play.

Mr. West gave a shout-out to Bill Strickland and Shelly Cecchet who have rallied with the Greater Kent Committee for the complex that will be located near Frederica, off Del. 1.

Meanwhile, in Dover the long-desired Kent County Recreation Center is just months away from opening. It will share its $10 million plus site off New Burton Road with the Greater Dover Boys & Girls Club.

Building on the future

Another longtime dream also came true in 2015 with the November opening of the Sankofa Cultural Arts Center.

“Reuben Salters had vision for downtown Dover,” Mr. West said, and the center will provide education programs for culture, art and after-school programs.

Delaware Agricultural Museum director Di Rafter welcomed the almost 90 people attending Tuesday unveiling of the 2106 Kent Economic Profile at the museum. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

Delaware Agricultural Museum director Di Rafter welcomed the almost 90 people attending Tuesday unveiling of the 2106 Kent Economic Profile at the museum. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

Keeping with the construction theme, Mr. West pointed to the new First State Military Academy in Clayton, renovation of Booker T. Washington Elementary in Dover, planned projects in the Caesar Rodney School District, a new barracks in Camden for Delaware State Police Troop 3 and housing for older residents, including Luther Towers III and a $10 million expansion and renovation at Westminster Village. The latter two are in Dover.

The medical field also remains healthy in Kent County, Mr. West said.

In late 2015, the Center at Eden Hill received the go-ahead to proceed with its plans to build a short-term care and rehabilitation facility in west Dover. Capital expenditure for the 65,000- to 85,000-square foot building, to sit on four acres, is expected to be between $19 million to $22 million.

Then there’s Bayhealth Medical Center.

“Bayhealth just continues to grow, up and out,” Mr. West said, referring to Bayhealth Kent General’s opening of a third-floor 32-progressive care unit in February. The $15 million project created 100 jobs.

Meanwhile, Bayhealth is not neglecting southern Kent County. A groundbreaking on its $250 million Milford campus that will cover 165 acres is planned for 2017.

Downtown revitalizations

Dover also is ready to flex its muscles. Gov. Jack Markell named the First State’s capital as one of three Downtown Development Districts, meaning the city will be on the receiving end of $1 million in grants and incentives to help businesses with repairs and construction projects.

Also making positive economic noise in 2015 was what Mr. West billed as music mania. Firefly, with an impact of $68 million, saw 90,000 attending while the inaugural Big Barrel country music festival lured 35,000 to the Woodlands of Dover International Speedway. Both return in June.

Not to be outdone by its sister to the south, Smyrna’s renaissance continued in 2015 with Blue Earl Brewing and the Inn at Duck Creek opening. Coming soon: Two new restaurants, including Texas-style barbecue.

The feather in the town’s cap, however, might be Smyrna High School’s Eagles football team being crowned state champion.

New chain restaurants sprouted along the U.S. 13 corridor with Odoba, Jersey Mike’s, Pie Fie and Panda Express opening in Dover.

Realtor Michael Harrington Jr. said the Kent County real estate market made gains in average housing sale price and volume sold in 2015. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

Realtor Michael Harrington Jr. said the Kent County real estate market made gains in average housing sale price and volume sold in 2015. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

“We’re seeing an expansion of chain restaurants and our waistlines,” Mr. West said.

It’s not just restaurants, though. 2015 saw bulldozers busy moving dirt and rubble at the long vacant Walmart store in north Dover, giving the site a new lease on life. The much anticipated Dover Towne Center’s 135-000 square feet will include Five Below, Ross Dress for Less, Shoe Carnival, Petco, Outback and Ulta. Carter’s Osh Kosh and Furniture & More will join the center along with two or three additional stores. The shopping center is expected to open in May or June.

Manufacturing and markets

Already powered up is the Garrison Oak Technical Center.

Calpine’s Garrison Energy Center went on line in June and German flooring manufacturer Uzin Utz celebrated its grand opening in September. Uzin Utz’s $10 million facility brings with it 25 to 30 jobs.

Kent County’s real estate market continues to make gains, according to Michael Harrington Jr.

President of Kent County Association of Realtors, Mr. Harrington told those gathered local indicators for the Kent County market reflects growth.

Among his positive news for Kent County was a 15.2 increase in sales from 2014 with 1,864 units sold in 2015.

Average price also increased from $168,000 several years ago to $199,000.

All that adds up to $372,085,000 settled in 2015, a 19.04 percent increase from 2014.

One relative newcomer to Delaware is sold on the state and county.

Representing the manufacturing segment, PPG plant manager Neal Nicastro ran down a list of states where he lived before moving to Delaware two years ago.

“What a great state!” he said. “It’s a great place to live.”

PPG in Cheswold, one of North America’s largest architectural finishes plants, set up shop in 1975.

PPG Dover plant manager Neal Nicastro said one challenge manufacturing faces is finding the next generation of employees. Delaware’s Pathway to Prosperity program is helping today’s students receive the training they need to be tomorrow’s workers. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

PPG Dover plant manager Neal Nicastro said one challenge manufacturing faces is finding the next generation of employees. Delaware’s Pathway to Prosperity program is helping today’s students receive the training they need to be tomorrow’s workers. (Delaware State News/Dave Chambers)

The 81 full-time employees are just a fraction of the company’s 40,000 worldwide workforce.

However, one challenge the company and other manufacturers face, Mr. Nicastro said, is replacing experienced employees as they retire. The average employee at PPG has worked there for 23 years.

“Where will the next regime come from?” Mr. Nicastro asked. “It has to come from education spectrum.”

He praised Delaware’s Pathways to Prosperity, program which is building a pipeline of skilled workers by allowing high school students get the necessary training and job experience that can lead to a successful manufacturing job.

“These kids will be well-prepared,” Mr. Nicastro said,

Manufacturers will need employees, he said, and can get them through such school-to-work programs.

“Delaware has an opportunity to be leader.”

Those manufacturing jobs help drive retail gains, said Kent Economic Partnership director James Waddington, “There are more than 5,000 manufacturing jobs in Kent County with an average salary north of $45,000,” he said.

“One of the most critical elements in keeping business healthy is development and retention,” he said.

Kent County, through a concerted effort, came through the recession with some businesses able to expand in “meaningful ways,” Mr. Waddington said.

“Economic development takes team support.”

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