COMMENTARY: Time to get to work to build Delaware’s economy

The Delaware Business Roundtable welcomes the General Assembly back to Dover, and we are looking forward to working with lawmakers and the incoming administration to strengthen Delaware’s economy for today’s workers and for generations to come.

We believe our policymakers must enact policies that build an entrepreneurial and innovation ecosystem, pursue a new approach to economic development, and enhance Delaware’s business climate.

To achieve these goals, we laid out proposals in the Delaware Growth Agenda – a strategic framework for pursuing a new long-term approach to economic development in Delaware that makes the state a global magnet for leading-edge technologies, talent, and investment.

Promoting Entrepreneurship. First, we must wisely and prudently increase our federal, state and private investment in higher education – but not simply for the sake of spending more money on colleges and universities. Instead, we must emphasize potential growth areas, including finance, health care, science and technology, engineering, entrepreneurship programs. In other words, we must be smart about where we invest our higher education dollars – and our investment must go to those areas that can build a stronger, more economically diverse Delaware.

Robert Perkins

This investment in education will feed an entrepreneurship and innovation ecosystem, but this alone will not achieve our goals. That’s why the Delaware Growth Agenda calls for the creation of an “Innovation District” as a destination for entrepreneurs and startups, as well as for marketing Delaware to regional and national angel investors and risk capital networks.

New Approach. As we build this ecosystem, the state must pursue a new approach to economic development – and that starts at the state level.

In the United States, economic development programs at the state level generally fall into three categories: purely public-sector agencies, public-sector agencies with a separate public-private marketing and recruitment arm, and public-private economic development partnerships. Delaware currently uses the first approach – with all economic development efforts solely under the state Department of Economic Development Office.

The Business Roundtable believes Delaware should establish a public-private organization that crafts a new comprehensive strategic plan backed by a marketing campaign that pursues new investment and jobs in key industries. This will bring Delaware in line with the approach increasingly taken by other states, including Arizona, Florida and North Carolina, where public-private partnerships have been credited with attracting tens of thousands of jobs, significant capital investments, and billions of new dollars in sales and payroll.

The Roundtable believes the new economic development organization should be funded by multiple sources and governed by an independent board with a core mission to facilitate new and expanded investment in Delaware that retains and grows jobs; to encourage the development of infrastructure and enhance the business climate; and to nurture a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation that enables the state to grow the industries, technologies and jobs of the future.

Business Climate. Finally, Delaware must take significant steps to improve its business climate. That includes ensuring that Delaware’s infrastructure meets the needs of a 21st Century economy; improving the state’s public education system by implementing the strategic recommendations contained in the “Student Success 2025” report published by the Vision Coalition of Delaware; and taking a leadership role in helping to facilitate more efficient development and permitting processes at the local and county levels.

Additionally, the General Assembly should create a Futures Council of Delaware to engage in a non-partisan dialogue about the long-term economic competitiveness of the state; enhance Delaware’s quality of place by providing the places and amenities sought by businesses and talent; and ensure that the apportionment structure of the Delaware Corporate Income Tax is competitive with other states.

This is an ambitious agenda – but one that is achievable for forward-looking policymakers committed to Delaware’s economic future. Working together, the new administration, the General Assembly and the business community can build a stronger, more sustainable future for Delaware and its families.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Robert Perkins is the executive director of the Delaware Business Roundtable.

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