Partnership stressed at Kent County Economic Summit

 

Photos: Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — The theme of the eighth annual Kent County Economic Summit at Delaware Technical Community College Terry Campus on Tuesday was “The Power of Partnership.”

Kent County Director of Economic Development James Waddington said Dover, Milford and Smyrna — and smaller towns in between — share that spirit of cooperation and it is paying dividends for the county’s economic viability as a whole.

“I think we’re incredibly strong,” Mr. Waddington said. “I’m really impressed by the number of manufacturing firms that we have and the number of manufacturing jobs. Beyond that, it’s been very encouraging to see these partnerships kind of bear fruit.”

Mr. Waddington said it’s a far cry from when he first took over his economic development role with Kent County in 2012.

“Several years ago when I first came into this position it seemed to me that there was a lot of kind of overt competition between our smaller towns, and Dover,” he said. “What I’ve seen kind of grow is a real effort to work cooperatively as opposed to competing with each other. So I see that paying real dividends.

“If Smyrna gets a new restaurant I think that only helps out Dover and all of Kent County, and that’s the same thing with Milford. If we get a new business in Milford, then I believe that’s good for the county.”

Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen said he listened intently to Mr. Waddington’s presentation at the Del-One Conference Center, as well as remarks made by Milford Mayor Bryan Shupe and Smyrna Town Manager Dave Hugg.

He looked around at the full tables at Delaware Tech and said that was perhaps the more telling sign of interest in business in Kent County. The event was presented in collaboration with the Central Delaware Business and Entrepreneurship Consortium.

“This event showcases Kent County and Dover and it lets us all see some of the successes that we’ve had and also tells us about some common weaknesses that we have,” Mayor Christiansen said. “I think the fact that we have this many people here that are interested in Kent County is huge and it shows that we’re on the move.”

Mayor Christiansen also said cooperation between Kent County cities and towns when it comes to bringing in new businesses or expanding older ones only benefits them all.

“It always has been friendly [competition] and it should be friendly,” he said. “I’ve sent some businesses to Milford and to Smyrna and they’ve sent others to me and we do have a friendly competition.

“All in all, Dover, Smyrna and Milford and the other communities in Delaware all benefit from the economic development efforts that we put in here to central Delaware.”

The Kent County Economic Summit put the spotlight on large events that come into the county annually, such as the Firefly Music Festival and NASCAR races at Dover International Speedway, as well as smaller events such as Dover Days and other community festivals.

It was noted that Dover Air Force Base, which is nearing the completion of a $100 million runway expansion, is the fifth-largest employer in the state.

Developments on the horizon are generating excitement also, including the ongoing current construction of the Kent County Regional Sports Complex, also known as The Turf, between Dover and Milford.

Delaware Tech’s June Turansky (vice president and campus director), Mark Brainard (president) and Bernice Whaley, director of the Delaware Economic Development Office, welcomed guests to the economic summit.

Col. Ethan C. Griffin, commander of Dover Air Force Base’s 436th Wing; Christine Kubick, community relations specialist for the Delaware National Guard; Hank Rosenberg, chief operating officer/hospitality at Harrington Raceway, and Michael Tatoian, president and CEO of Dover International Speedway, offered their own business insights.

The keynote speaker was Scott Kammerer, president of SoDel Concepts, which owns nine coastal restaurants, a catering company and a food truck. He delivered pointers on how to get others to tell a business’ story, particularly on social media, and how it has helped his organization grow.

Gov. Jack Markell served as the final speaker, lauding Kent County for the progress it has been making in attracting businesses.

Mayor Shupe envisions enormous growth potential in Milford as it prepares to open a $250 million Bayhealth health care campus in 2019. It is also continuing revitalization efforts to its Mispillion River waterfront, including new restaurants as well as improving the city’s infrastructure.

“This is really an opportunity for Milford to expose all of these great economic partners to what we’re doing in Milford — how we’re being innovative and how we are being attractive to large companies, but also small businesses as well,” Mayor Shupe said.

“We not only want them to see the partnerships that we already have and expanding businesses that are ongoing in Milford, but also the opportunity for new growth and new business development.”

Mr. Hugg said Smyrna is on a journey to find its own niche as it prepares to triple its population in the coming years from what it was just 20 years ago.

It is a town that, like Dover and Milford, also invites small businesses to help stimulate the economy.

“In addition to saying ‘Smyrna is cool,’ I also like to say the state of the economy in northern Kent County is good,” he said. “It’s promising and things are happening. People are knocking on the door and they’re asking questions, so it’s very positive.

“We know we can’t compete head-on with Middletown and Dover, so we need to create our own identity and our own uniqueness and find that niche that serves us well. The food and beverage and entertainment industries have become a real target of a lot of what we’re doing.”

One thing that Dover, Milford and Smyrna do share is manufacturing bases, whether it’s Edgewell, First State Manufacturing or a Walmart distribution center, among others.

Mr. Waddington noted there are 75 manufacturers in Kent County that combine to provide 4,752 jobs that have an average annual wage of $51,000.

“Our manufacturing base has been a shining star for Kent County,” he said. “Many of our major employers have invested heavily in expansion. I think that’s going to pay dividends in the future when it comes to business attraction.”

Delaware State News staff writer Mike Finney can be reached at mfinney@newszap.com.

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