The luncheon event was held at the University of Delaware’s STAR Campus, the former Chrysler assembly plant site. UD, developer Delle Donne & Associates and Bancroft Construction are partnering on a mixed-use project that currently includes start-up companies, university health facilities, and two larger employers, Bloom Energy and technology company SevOne.
Presenting sponsor of the event was Harvey Hanna & Associates.
Keynote speaker Gov. John Carney acknowledged the challenges facing the state that include job losses in the industrial corridor around his hometown of Claymont that include a steel mill the Sunoco refinery and the Chemours Edgemoor site.
The steel mill has been leveled, and the same fate awaits Edgemoor, which was purchased by the parent of the Port of Wilmington for possible expansion.
Regarding the state’s projected $350 million budget gap, Carney said the state needs to ramp up its growth rate beyond two to two and a half percent a year to ease the gap between taxes and spending.
According to Carney, the state needs to recognize that it will not see the “next big thing,” but will instead need to see “50 little things” regarding start-ups, with the chance that one of the little things can turn into a big thing.
Spending cuts and tax increases are widely expected as the General Assembly deals with the budget.
A big problem in the state and the nation involves health care costs, according to Carney. Former Gov. Jack Markell was unsuccessful in his proposals to rein in soaring health care costs for state employees. Carney made no reference to that effort.
In a panel discussion that followed Carney’s remarks, Kevin Kelly, chairman of Leon Weiner and Associates, north Wilmington, said one of the problems in jump-starting growth is a hostile development environment in New Castle.
Kelly, a former chairman of the National Association of Home Builders said that even areas known to be tough for developers, such as Philadelphia and the Washington, D.C. area pose fewer problems that the state’s northernmost county.
Kelly said he looks forward to what he hopes is a more rational process under new New Castle Executive Matt Meyer and Carney.
One of the development success stories is the Town of Middletown, with panel member Kenneth Branner describing the municipality’s strategy.
Branner said Middletown paved he way for major employers, like Amazon, by investing $20 million in utility infrastructure. The investments were made during the economic downturn with the competition among contractors allowed the town to get more bang per buck.
The town, through its municipally owned electric utility, was able to negotiate lower rates as a way to lure employers, Branner said.
Delaware Business Now will offer further coverage of the Urban Land Institute event in coming days.