Two new entities orchestrating state’s business development

 

DOVER — Delaware’s economy, officials say, has changed precipitously in recent years.

Gone are the days when internationally known companies like DuPont could be counted on to provide well-paying jobs to thousands of Delawareans. As a result, there’s a shift among policymakers toward small business.

Picking up where his predecessor left off, Gov. John Carney has emphasized in speeches and actions an economy in transition. He has stressed developing an economy centered on entrepreneurs, and to that end, he pushed for the General Assembly to eliminate the Delaware Economic Development Office earlier this year.

In DEDO’s place are a public-private partnership — effectively considered a private entity immune from some of the rules that govern state bodies — and a new division under the Department of State.

“So, the public-private partnership is going to be almost solely focused on marketing the state of Delaware,” Cerron Cade, director of the Division of Small Business, Development and Tourism, said.

“That can be very costly, very time-consuming and really take the attention away from really all the blocking and tackling things that are necessary in economic development. So, they’re going to pick up that burden and leverage some private-sector resources so we can continue to put our best foot forward there.”

While the Delaware Prosperity Partnership handles many of the big-picture things, the division will be working to support small businesses in the state in more direct ways.

According to Troy Mix, a policy scientist in the University of Delaware’s Institute for Public Administration, 40 percent of Delaware workers are employed by companies or entities with at least 5,000 employees, a greater percentage than surrounding states.

But decision-makers say the state cannot rely on Fortune 500 corporations to employ Delawareans, and the executive branch is aiming not to bring one company that will hire 100 people to Delaware but to help people start 10 companies that will each hire 10 people.

Proportionally, small business is biggest in Sussex, which has a heavy tourism industry, and smallest in New Castle, which has long been reliant on large employers.

Dozens of business owners and state officials met Tuesday to discuss the strategy the new division should adopt. The executive branch is working with the Institute for Public Administration, companies and business associations to develop a coherent plan for the future of the Division of Small Business, Development and Tourism, which will get a new, more concise name at some point. Officials aim to complete the plan by the end of the year.

“Our goal is to focus on the everyday entrepreneur, the lady who wants to start the cleaning company, the guy who wants to start the restaurant,” Mr. Cade said. “Those companies deserve just as much attention.”

Attendees at the forum Tuesday considered the exact nature of the efforts the division will make to aid businesses. Options include primarily connecting the division with existing small-business development programs, helping offer monetary support to entrepreneurs and developing several different regional approaches.

“It is not a bureaucracy,” Bill McGowan, a senior fellow with the Institute for Public Administration, said of the division. “It is the exact opposite of a bureaucracy.”

The division will oversee the fund that hands out monetary incentives to attract companies to settle or stay in Delaware, with final authorization resting with Mr. Cade. That fund was formerly run by DEDO.

According to the state, the division will include a special focus on businesses owned by minorities, women and veterans.

“By restructuring our economic development efforts, we’re positioning Delaware to create good-paying jobs, build an entrepreneurial ecosystem, and ensure that Delaware remains a leading state to do business,” Gov. Carney said in a statement when he signed the legislation creating the partnership in August.

“We will partner with private business to draw on new resources, and ideas, for improving our economy. And we will offer new, targeted support for small businesses and entrepreneurs who are responsible for much of our economic growth and job creation.”

Reach staff writer Matt Bittle at mbittle@newszap.com

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