Carney signs order to study replacing DEDO

DOVER — Gov. John Carney, in his first official public act as the state’s chief executive, signed an executive order Wednesday to examine replacing the Delaware Economic Development Office with a public-private partnership.

“My view, as I talk to people across our state, is we need to do things a little bit differently, to incentivize and create an ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship,” the governor, who was sworn in the day before, said.

He signed the order in his Legislative Hall office in front of lawmakers, DEDO employees and business leaders. His predecessor, Gov. Jack Markell, issued 63 executive orders during his eight years in office.

The executive order creates a task force that will study ways to create jobs and attract companies to the First State.

Gov. Carney’s vision is of a “jointly funded agency with priorities that are established jointly by the public and private.”

Gov. John Carney, flanked by legislators, from left, Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, Sen. Margaret Rose Henry and Sen. Nicole Poore and Bayhealth President and CEO Terry Murphy, talks about his plans for the Delaware Economic Development Office.

The new partnership could replace DEDO entirely or exist alongside it.

The 14-member task force will consist of legislators, business officials, representatives from various nonprofits and members of the executive branch.

The report is due April 7, and Gov. Carney is hopeful any changes can be made by July 1, the start of the next fiscal year.

Gov. John Carney signs a document about the future of the Delaware Economic Development Office at Legislative Hall on Wednesday. (Delaware State News/Marc Clery)

Bernice Whaley, a member of the working group, will continue to serve as head of DEDO for the time being. What happens to the employees of DEDO will be decided based on the report’s recommends.

DEDO had several high-profile hits and misses under Gov. Jack Markell, who aggressively pursued job creation.The agency helped in re-opening the Delaware City oil refinery and motivating companies like JPMorgan Chase & Co. to invest in the state.

As of Aug. 31, there were 109 active grants from the office’s Strategic Fund, totaling nearly $147 million. Those grants — also known as incentives — created 32,819 full-time jobs, more than anticipated, per DEDO.

However, efforts to attract Fisker and Bloom Energy cost taxpayers millions and failed to deliver the sought-after number of jobs.

Gov. Carney’s executive order partially stems from a report released by the Delaware Business Roundtable last year that called for such a partnership to create jobs.

Delaware Business Round Table director and Bayhealth President Terry Murphy speaks.

“The Delaware Business Roundtable, the Chamber of Commerce and the entire business community looks forward to working on this project with the Carney administration, with the General Assembly and all stakeholders to make Delaware an economic engine,” Bayhealth President and CEO Terry Murphy said Wednesday.

Gov. Carney admitted the proposal has the potential to place too much power in corporations’ hands, and though he noted several states have similar agreements he is unsure how successful and efficient they are.

He cited DEDO’s Council on Development Finance, which is made up of state officials and business people, as an example of a similar partnership.

The announcement was applauded by lawmakers from both parties.

“This is the No. 1 issue that I hear from constituents as we go to community meetings and so forth. We’re talking about employment, and we’re talking about jobs,” Senate President Pro Tempore David McBride, D-Wilmington, said.

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