Kent County Economic Summit: Infrastructure and workforce investments are key

Gov. John Carney speaking at the Kent County Economic Summit at the Delaware Tech Terry Campus on Tuesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

DOVER — “I spent the first few months of my administration going out into the public talking about how we can close a $400 million deficit — which is about 10 percent of our $4.1 billion budget — while protecting investments in our infrastructure and workforce that are so important for the economic development of the state,” Gov. John Carney said Tuesday.

“Going forward, education and having a regulatory environment that is conducive to businesses is critically important to compete with other states.”

As the keynote speaker at the ninth annual Kent County Economic Summit held at Delaware Technical Community College Terry Campus, Gov. Carney said that despite budget constraints, the county has managed to secure sizable investments that will help its future economic outlook.

“Think about the investments happening right now,” he said. “We have an over a million-dollar investment in the runways at the Dover Air Force Base that solidifies that Air Force’s presence here.

“We also have, believe it or not, over the next six years, a half-a-billion-dollar transportation investment here in Kent County through the Department of Transportation. All these investments are going to help the Dover area grow.”

President of Del Tech, Mark T. Brainard, right, introduces Keynote Speaker Gov. John Carney at the Kent County Economic Summit at the Delaware Tech Terry Campus on Tuesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

The annual summit brings hundreds of business owners, government workers and community organization staffers together to provide information on the goods and services in central Delaware and how entrepreneurs and established businesses can succeed.

The event’s stated aim is to “advance the common goal of improving the economic life in Kent County” through informing stakeholders, articulating current initiatives, identifying opportunities for collaboration and stimulating action.

The conference is presented in collaboration with the Central Delaware Business and Entrepreneurship Consortium.

Part of the summit’s centerpiece this year was a panel that discussed “The New Wave of Marketing.” Senior accountant at Comcast Jane Francisco, WBOC’s digital director Ethan Holland, iHeart Media’s senior account executive David Hill and this newspaper’s publisher Darel LaPrade were all on hand to brief attendees on the changing face of advertising and how to best reach their target demographics.

Delaware State News publisher Darel LaPrade speaks at the Kent County Economic Summit at the Delaware Tech Terry Campus on Tuesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

“Hearing from media insiders today was a bit of a different twist on the theme,” said County Administrator Michael Petit de Mange. “It was interesting to hear thoughts on how much digital media is ‘too much.’

“Also, it was reassuring to see statistics being shared that suggest some of the more traditional methods of media consumption are still valid.”

Although a prominent panel of speakers gave a series of presentations, the summit is also a chance for Kent County’s influential businesspeople to mill about the Del-One Conference Center in Delaware Technical Community College’s Terry Campus in Dover and network with one another.

In a presentation on the county’s economic outlook, Delaware State News editor Andy West noted several encouraging partnerships that had formed or continued to flourish since the last summit.

“Last year, partnerships were stressed, and there ended up being a lot of good examples over the year,” he said. “The Kent County Recreation Center and Boys and Girls club was a terrific example. Firefly, Dover International Speedway and community organizations of businesses is another.

“The Dover Air Force Base (DAFB) is also working with the community, connecting with businesses that can step up and fill the needs that it has.”

Mr. West also extolled the total estimated $144 million investment made in the DAFB runways over two projects — one last September and the other last month.

“Those infrastructure investments are going to keep the base in good shape for the next 50 to 75 years,” he added. “The runway opened just in time for the DAFB open house air show this past August.

Cindy Small, Business Advisor with University of Delaware’s America’s SBDC Delaware, at the Kent County Economic Summit at the Delaware Tech Terry Campus on Tuesday. Delaware State News/Marc Clery

“When you talk about tourism and the amount of people coming to Kent County that’s a great example of an opportunity that was capitalized on. About 65,000 came in for that.
“I’m guessing between the state fair, the races, Firefly and the air show, we probably had a half million people or more visit the county this past year.”

Kent County Levy Court Commissioner Terry Pepper said events like the summit are an important ingredient to moving the county forward economically.

“It takes all different types of events like this one and commitments from all the levels of government to move us forward,” he said. “I want to hear more about the impediments to business the local governments and municipalities are facing trying to attract growth to their areas.

“Often, in the county, we hear a lot about issues with infrastructure, but specific information on what is preventing new businesses from getting established is helpful.”

The county is in the process of rolling out an effort of its own that was mentioned at the summit. Starting in October, the county will make available a nearly 2,000-square foot office space that’s been sitting empty on the second floor of the Kent County Levy Court Administration Building for more than a year to local businesses.

The Kent County Emerging Enterprise Development Center (KCEEDC) will be offering four different types of rental space within its professional office environment: Semi-private work station ($225 per month), professional desk space cubicle ($175 per month), business desk workspace ($125 per month) and weekly share space ($75 per month).

Reach staff writer Ian Gronau at igronau@newszap.com

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