Getting together: Dover reaches out to college students at economic forum

Dover City Manager Dave Hugg, Dr. Kathy Kennedy-Ratajack, Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen, Dr. Kirk Johnson, Dr. Donald Stuhlman, Dr. Michael Casson, William Pritchard, Dr. Clint Robertson and Dr. Lisa Strusowski all particiapted in the Dover Economic Development Forum at Wilmington University last Wednesday. Submitted photo

DOVER — There is a valuable resource in the city of Dover that hasn’t often been mined by local businesses — the more than 15,000 college students who make the city their home for around 10 months out of a year.

That’s why City of Dover officials and business minds from local colleges and universities got together last Wednesday at Wilmington University in north Dover. They gathered to discuss “An Economic Vision of Dover: Dover Economic Development Forum.”

Mayor Robin Christiansen said it just makes sense to get the local college students more involved in participating in local organizations, working at Dover businesses and supporting the city’s economy.

“We must partner with the valuable resources and talents of our institutions of higher learning, bringing them into the city’s planning and long-range decision-making protocols,” the mayor said.

“We must, as a city, capitalize on the more than 15,000 college students who enjoy Dover as part of their educational journey by encouraging them to spend their leisure time — and their money — in the local economy while enjoying all that Dover has to offer to each of them as their home away from home.”

Dover City Planner Dave Hugg acknowledged that no real solutions were offered during the forum — and added that was what he expected. It was a small step in bringing the city government and local colleges together.

Nearly 60 people attended “An Economist’s Vision of Dover: Dover Economic Development Forum at Wilmington University in north Dover last Wednesday. Submitted photo

“My real purpose in wanting this to happen was just that I’m a great believer in people talking to each other,” Mr. Hugg said. “We don’t do that enough. We get locked up in our offices and various projects and whatever, so I was just encouraged to have 40 or 50 people be in a room and listen to folks talk about some of these issues.

“I don’t know that we answered any questions (at the forum), but I wasn’t really looking necessarily for answers. I’d like to see us do a follow-up on every one of the five topics that were discussed (last Wednesday).”

Five panelists make presentations

Panel presentations were given by representatives of five area institutions of higher learning, including: Dr. Donald Stuhlman, chair of Economics and Finance at Wilmington University; Dr. Lisa Strusowski, director for Workforce Development and Community Education at Delaware Technical Community College; Dr. Kirk Johnson, professor of Economics at Goldey Beacom-College; William Pritchard, vice president for Institutional Advancement at Wesley College and Dr. Michael Casson Jr., associate professor for Accounting, Economics and Finance at Delaware State University.

Among some of the forum’s highlights, Dr. Stuhlman spoke about a variety of data and the demographics of the city of Dover and how it relates to other towns, Dr. Strusowski pointed out the importance of community colleges to filling industrial and trade jobs and Dr. Johnson talked about the need to retain college students within the city after they graduate, which will help to fill key leadership roles in Dover’s future.

Mr. Pritchard said downtown Dover needs to attract businesses that will “create a destination” and told city officials never to assume people from other states know about Dover, before Dr. Casson spoke about best bet job opportunities in the city, which was led by business and legal services.

It was a lot of data and information to squeeze into three hours, but everyone seemed to leave the forum with a better understanding of what needs to be done to more actively involve college students in the city’s activities.

Focusing on the future

“This is wonderful,” said Dr. Clint Robertson, assistant dean of the College of Business at Wilmington University. “Everybody here was focused on the future of Dover. I think we’ve all got pictures in our mind of what Loockerman Street could look like in another three to five years with our involvement with the types of decision makers that are here and what we can do if we all work together.”

Cameron Llewellyn, of the Destination Downtown Dover organization, was also encouraged by the forum.

“Dover is improving in small increments day-by-day, so we’re encouraged by that,” he said. “The businesses need more engagement from the young people.

“There’s a lot of effort and a lot of enthusiasm. I just think if everybody stands arm-in-arm and walks all in the same direction things would be great, but it’s kind of disjointed because there are a bunch of people trying to do things and it’s all over the place.”

Dr. Casson said he thought it was a good idea to bring the city and colleges together.

“I think anytime you can bring higher education together and have them think about how to best leverage their talents on campus for economic growth within the city is always a positive thing,” Dr. Casson said. “I think it’s an opportunity for us as a university to really understand the needs of our city and our county as it pertains to the economic development efforts.”

Dr. Strusowski said it was nice to get all the area’s colleges in the same room and on the same page with the city.

“I think the event was a great opportunity to share with everyone how we can build economic development initiatives in the city of Dover,” she said. “All the colleges participate, I’m sure, in work-based learning, internships, clinicals, co-ops.

“At Delaware Tech we actually have a work-based learning director, Chandlee Kuhn, who oversees that and works with the (Department of Education) for the school of Career Pathways for Internships. We want to get the students out into businesses and organizations so that they can learn the soft skills, the life skills and the hard skills that I think are important.”

Start of a new era of communication

Mr. Hugg also asked the colleges, business leaders and community members to participate in the vision for the city’s comprehensive plan that it is in the process of developing this year.

The city of Dover’s comprehensive plan survey is online at: https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/2YPJPV2. More information regarding Dover’s comprehensive plan process is available at: compplan@dover.de.us.

Mayor Christiansen acknowledged the need to get the colleges more involved in the future of Dover.

“Today is the beginning of a new era for Dover and Kent County,” the mayor said, last Wednesday. “Today as we begin this summit to consummate a partnership with our educational institutions and the recognition of their value to our city and its citizens.

“As we begin this summit I hope each of you will better understand the forces and factors that drive our local economy today and in the future. Understanding these issues will better help us to grow and prosper in the future.”

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

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. (You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable.) Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the X in the upper right corner of the comment box.