Kent Economic Summit: 2020 will be ‘year of big announcements’

DOVER — Discussing the fruits of public/private partnerships and the ever present need for a highly skilled workforce were the two dominant themes at the 11th annual Kent County Economic Development Summit on Tuesday morning.

The summit, hosted at Delaware Technical Community College’s Terry Campus in Dover, featured keynote speaker Gov. John Carney and two speaker panels on attracting new talent and businesses to the county.

During his remarks, Gov. Carney noted the cascading effect a strong economy has on the region.
“I learned a long time ago, if you have a strong and growing economy, everything that we have to do on the state government side gets a heck of a lot easier,” he said.

“When people are working, they’re happy and they’re able to support their families, able to send their kids to college and save for retirement, buy something new for their house or buy a new car.”

Closing the skills gap
Stressing the importance of closing a skills gap for workers in fields that require skilled labor and science and technology-based skills, Gov. Carney said more people working would help fill the state’s coffers.

“I started off this term with a $350- to $400 million deficit. When your economy is strong and people are working, they’re paying taxes,” he said.
“We’ve been able to work through that budget deficit with additional revenue that’s come in through lots of different sectors.”

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, networking opportunities and guidance for entrepreneurs and established businesses alike.

During a panel discussion on attracting businesses and creating opportunities — that included several local government planners, managers and administrator — 2020 was alluded to as a year with the potential of “big announcements.”
Kent County Administrator Michael Petit de Mange noted that the area north of the Dover Air Force Base may be the next slated for a “master planning” treatment.

Long dormant project
The long dormant project to develop a “civil air terminal” through joint use of a portion of the federally-owned base has gotten renewed attention under Kent Economic Partnership (KEP) director Linda Parkowski’s watch, he said.
According to Ms. Parkowski, a consultant is currently in the process of examining potential uses for the civil air terminal.

“Last year we went to an air cargo trade show and showed two airport developers what we had, but they said ‘all you have here is a vision, you haven’t done any market analysis to determine the best uses,’” she said.
“So DelDOT, the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, the City of Dover and the KEP hired a consultant that started working on a study about three weeks ago.

“They’ll be looking at what the best use of it would realistically be. Should it be cargo, should it be a fixed-base operation, should it be passenger, should it be a training school or should it be nothing? So finally, after 30 years, we will know what should happen at the civil air terminal.

“We’re hoping at the end of this year the study will be done.”
Depending on the results of the study, the area north of the base may be planned with an “employment center” in mind, Mr. Petit de Mange said.
As far as Dover is concerned, city planning director Dave Hugg was secretive, albeit hopeful, about possible upcoming developments.

“For 2020, I’d just like to look back and have a couple big announcements,” he said. “We’re in talks right now with an urban agriculture business that would really change the face of our business park.
“There will also be two new office buildings downtown, but I can’t tell you who the tenants are yet.”

For Mr. Hugg, the change that’s spurred the most economic activity of late has been inter-agency and business professional collaboration.

Location ideally suited
“Our location is ideally suited for a lot of big companies and businesses who may have overlooked us in the past,” he said.
“But, probably our greatest strength right now is that we all (stakeholders) know each other, like each other and are working closely together.

“I’ve been in this business a long time and this is the first I can remember that we’re working together at this kind of level on these projects.”

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