(Opinion column) Port of Wilmington controversy simmers

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portThe controversy continues to simmer  over negotiations between the state and oil shipping giant Kinder Morgan over a plan to privatize the Port of Wilmington.

Gov. Jack Markell did sign a bill that gives legislators some oversight over any deal, but that has not stopped critics from firing back.

The point of view has been outlined in the Delaware Liberal website. Here’s a recent post.

The administration, which been cautious about privatizing state operations, seems to believe that a private operator would do a better job. But the biggest issue seems to be debt.

The port is in need of more investment and the state is concerned about  risking its top rating with Standard & Poor’s and other  rating services.

The unhappiness among critics probably  dates  back to the 1990s when the port was operated by the City of Wilmington.

As the city continued to struggle with its finances, the state agreed to manage the port.

Over the years, the port had an outsized role in the economy and social fabric of the city, supplying  jobs for  residents, including those having difficulty in finding employment, sometimes due to a brush with the law.

The attacks of 9-11 changed all that and workers now have to undergo screening before working the docks.

Moving to a private operator has raised a number of questions, including how Kinder Morgan would deal with a big part of the port’s business, fresh produce. Other ports managed by Kinder Morgan focus on bulk materials and petroleum products.

Another worry  is how much money the company would actually invest in the port. The  concerns are legitimate, but scratch the surface   and it is likely that any deal would be unacceptable to the most ardent foes of  Kinder Morgan.

 State’s  ranking gets attention

It was good to see that the largest newspaper in the state took note of Delaware’s No. 2 ranking among the 50 states when it comes to competing in the global economy. Also if you read this column before 2 p.m. today,  check out the Rick Jensen Show on WDEL 1150 AM.

Felicia Pulliam, deputy director of the Delaware Office of International Trade and Development, Rebecca Faber, president of the World Trade Center of Delaware discussed the report.

Getting the story out about the ranking is important at a time when the ability to compete in the global marketplace is more important than ever.

The report from the Information  Technology and Innovation Foundation was released in late January.  The Bulletin and the DelawareBusinessDaily.com website were the first to report the news.

 More shareholder suits return to state

More fights related to corporate takeovers are returning to Delaware. Cornerstone Research reported last week that Chancery saw a larger share of lawsuits in 2012 than in previous years. A larger share of lawsuits  had been moving to state and federal courts in previous years, a worrisome development for the state’s legal community.

Lawsuits seem to be built into merger and acquisition deals, with Law360 reporting that 96 percent of deals north of $500 million end up with some sort of litigation.

Some of this may be due to the fact that many deals these days  do not come with a huge premium over the previous stock price of the acquired company.

Few shareholders are unhappy when the acquiring company pays double  the current  stock price.

 Fish  fries and Burger King

Those of us who lived around the Great Lakes have enjoyed   Friday fish fries. The feasts grew out of meatless Fridays in a region with a large Catholic population.

This month, barbecue chain Famous Dave’s is offering fish fries at its two northern Delaware restaurants.

Famous Dave’s actually has its roots in the Great Lakes area (its first restaurant opened in northern Wisconsin).  The publicly traded company also uses promotions to  build sales beyond its barbecue offerings.

Another restaurant operator,  Cracker Barrel, learned a lesson about the popularity of fish fries when it found that few customers showed up on Friday nights. A fish fry was quickly added.

On the fast food side, Burger King is working on a comeback on DuPont Highway in New Castle.

Unlike McDonald’s, which typically keeps its restaurants open during renovations, the airport Burger King was closed.

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