New Castle Co, Wilmington economic plans are a good start
This article originally appeared in The News Journal as a Delaware Voice opinion editorial on November 18, 2014.
The link is: http://delonline.us/1p1urFA
New Castle County Executive Tom Gordon and Wilmington Mayor Dennis Williams are to be congratulated for allowing consultants to produce a frank and stark Economic Development Strategic Plan.
The economies of the county and the city cannot rebound without clear recognition of current strengths and weaknesses and a plan to capitalize on the strengths and ameliorate the weaknesses.
The county’s many strengths are well-known: located at the intersection of major transportation systems, the University of Delaware, no sales tax, a strong Internet backbone, a concentration of financial services and a competitive regional hospital. Added to that is the recent coordination between the governments, which recognize that they rise and fall together.
The county’s current competitive weaknesses are starkly presented. Highest on the list is an apparent anti-development and non-business-friendly environment. The constraints to growth imposed by the Unified Development Code are acknowledged, as are the long delays in the permitting process and seemly arbitrary development impact fees. Also recognized are the high crime rates in the city and the quality of public schools.
The Port of Wilmington is constrained by channel depth and no bonding authority; the New Castle Airport by the length of its runways. The outlook for manufacturing and “nuts-and-bolts” jobs is poor, and the state’s Gross Receipts Tax discourages the location of larger facilities.
It is a tremendous step forward for public officials to identify where corrective change is needed.
An element of “political correctness” does flow through the report.
The concerns with the quality of the county’s public-school systems are said to be “perceived,” and what is needed is “better marketing.”
There are strong recommendations for strengthening the county’s “important” agricultural base. The latest data show 516 persons employed in agriculture in the county vs. 350,000 persons employed in nonfarm activities. Farm earnings in the county are 0.04 percent of nonfarm earnings.
There is no interstate comparison of industrial electric rates. The most recent (August 2014) industrial electric rates per KWH are 8.64 cents for Delaware compared to 6.96 in Pennsylvania, 6.48 in South Carolina and 7.38 across the nation.
Finally, there is no mention of the strength of unions in the political arena and the need for a right-to-work law.
The plan consultants interviewed a wide range of constituents and reported honestly on what they were told. Now, there are clear actions that can be taken. It is an important step forward.
Dr. John E. Stapleford is president of the Caesar Rodney Institute.
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