‘Making Dover Prosper’ initiative aims to help new businesses

New downtown Dover businesses, such as The Loocke on Loockerman Street, are being eased along with the “Making Dover Prosper” resolution developed over the summer. (Delaware State News photo by Marc Clery)

DOVER — Mayor Robin R. Christiansen had a saying that he often used when referring to new businesses dealing with the city of Dover when they were trying to get off the ground.

“People often look at the city of Dover as the department of ‘No,’” Mayor Christiansen said. “That is a perception that we need to change.”

It appears as if that is finally taking place behind a city council resolution called “Making Dover Prosper,” which took root during a January council workshop where members of council shared their long-term visions of the city.

The “Making Dover Prosper” resolution was introduced by City Councilman David Anderson in July and was approved by council on Aug. 14.

The resolution is designed to streamline the process of opening a new business, make it easier for businesses to acquire information, and painlessly set up shop in Dover.

“We can make Dover prosper by freeing the engine of free markets in a responsible way that recognizes appropriate regulation, but making sure that it works the way it is supposed to, to fulfill the purpose that is intended, without being duplicative and getting in the way of legitimate business activities,” Councilman Anderson said.

“This resolution is a collaborative effort incorporating the Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce Vision 2020, (Acting Director of Planning and Community Development) Dave Hugg’s ideas, and my own. Dover finally has an official pro-job growth economic policy after going adrift with the abolition of the (city’s) Economic Development Department (in 2016).”

Components to prosperity

Mr. Hugg said there are four basic components to the “Making Dover Prosper” initiative.

“One is what we call ‘road mapping,’ which is helping people get through the process and understanding how to get information and deal with the city in general,” Mr. Hugg said.

“The second one is streamlining, which we have already been doing a lot of to make the process more efficient, easier for people to work with and cleaning up some of the regulatory conflicts we have.

“The third is developing promotional and marketing materials and other information about the city, and then the fourth is building a stronger coordination with other people who are in this business.”

Councilman Anderson said he is pleased at the progress that is already being made with the “Making Dover Prosper” resolution, just more than two months after it passed.

“Mr. Hugg is working on initiatives to make the city more 21st-century friendly, with the ability to track permits and similar items,” he said. “Dover is a business-friendly city and this resolution looks at what can be done to remove existing barriers and the perception that the city is not business friendly.

“The best way to change that perception is to make sure there is no basis in reality for it.”

Flags along Loockerman Street in downtown Dover tell shoppers when a particular store is open and ready for business. (Delaware State News photo by Marc Clery)

Changing the perception

The city’s Planning Department, according to the mayor and city officials, had gained a reputation over the years as being difficult to deal with.

Mr. Hugg said he and his staff are trying their best to make the process of starting or bringing a new business to the Capital City much easier.

“We’re also working with the Downtown Dover Partnership to develop a ‘How to start a business checklist,’” he said. “We both have some kind of list that we put out that includes things like the incentives available and just some general information, like you need to get a business license and simple things like you need to find a location, pick a name, do a business plan, what have you.

“We’re combining forces to do a quick-and-easy handout that may have 25 to 30 steps to help people start a business who may be interested in coming to Dover, whether it’s downtown or wherever.”

Streamlining the process

Mr. Hugg’s Planning and Inspections Department is also in the midst of making its section on the city of Dover website more user friendly.

“We are taking a very hard look at the portion of the city website that the Planning and Inspection folks are responsible for, which includes some of the economic development initiatives that are set forth in the website,” said Mr. Hugg. “Hopefully, by three or four weeks from now, we’ll have a new format to look at and roll out and test.

“The idea is that you shouldn’t have to have a PhD to find the Downtown Development District on our website. It should be right there where people can click on it easily and it’ll tell them what they need to do.”

The changes promise to help the department streamline the licensing, inspections and permitting process. Under the new system, developers will be able to track the progress of an application in real-time.

Mr. Hugg’s office has also been hard at work updating several city ordinances, some of which are 50 to 60 years old.

The “Making Dover Prosper” initiative is one that won’t get accomplished overnight. It is a long-term goal designed to change the perception of bringing business to Dover.

Hugg draws praise for work

Mr. Hugg served as Smyrna’s city manager for 15 years and was credited with creating the “buzz” that went with a period of business growth there. Earlier in his career, he was the planning director for the state.

“I’m becoming a bad habit in every place I can show up to promote the city of Dover and make sure that we’re talking with each other and working together,” Mr. Hugg said. “I think the answer to all of our problems is sitting down and talking, sharing a cup of coffee and listening to each other.”

Mr. Hugg’s contract as Dover’s city planner is set to expire in December, but he has indicated that he is open to the idea of staying on with the city.

His work drew praise at last Tuesday’s Council of the Whole Committee meeting. That was just about a week after the Kent Economic Partnership honored him with its Economic Development Spirit Award for “individual commitment to promoting Kent County,

“I’d like to say that you have really made us shine here lately in drawing new businesses downtown and putting out the appropriate information,” Mayor Christiansen said to Mr. Hugg. “I commend your efforts.”

Councilman Anderson was also appreciative of Mr. Hugg’s work.

“Thank you for all the work you’re doing Mr. Hugg,” he said. “You’re focused like a laser and you’re cutting through the problems.”

Much to the city’s delight, it appears as if the department of “Yes” is now open for business.

 

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

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