Top  business  stories in  2017 – A look back, with a touch of  analysis

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Chemours newark

Chemours newark
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1. DowDuPont merger completed

The DowDuPont merger was completed in late summer, with work under way on splitting the company off into three publicly traded entities, Specialty Products, Agriculture and Materials Science. The DuPont company officially ceased to exist and it was unclear whether the name of the company founded as a powder mill along the Brandywine Creek will continue in some form once the split takes place.

The ag and Specialty Products businesses will be headquartered in Delaware, with the collection of Materials Science holdings operating under the Dow name. No names have been selected for the ag and materials sciences entities.

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The board did decide to move businesses with several billion dollars in revenue from Dow to the Specialty Products company. That should provide a boost to Delaware, although industry analysts warned that headquarters operations could be modest employers.

Meanwhile, work continued on tapping the talents and expertise of scientists who were victims of cost cutting prior to the merger. The state, University of Delaware and DuPont opened Delaware Innovation Space at the Experimental Station for start-up technologies.

2. Chemours on a roll

Chemours continued a dramatic turnaround in its stock price. After dipping into the $3.50 range in 2016, shares soared to the $50 area. Its pivotal titanium business recovered from an industrywide slump and its refrigerants business also showed strength.

The company also saw gains in productivity as cost cuts took hold and the debt load was reduced.

The company went all-in with Delaware and opted to keep its headquarters by leasing space in the former DuPont Building.

Late in the year, Chemours announced that it will build a long-rumored $150 million Discovery Hub research and development center on the University of Delaware STAR Campus.

In all, the moves are expected to keep 1,000 jobs in the state.

Meanwhile, the company was dealing with trace elements of a chemical that appeared in North Carolina waterways.

3. STAR Campus takes off

The University of Delaware STAR Campus took off in 2017 as a series of proposals and bets on the future paid off

Upwards of half a billion dollars in construction is expected to take place as a new biopharmaceutical research center and headquarters for a national public-private biopharma manufacturing partnership was announced.

Meanwhile construction started on a high-rise building that will house UD classrooms and facilities as well as room for young companies that might relocate to the campus.

As noted above, Chemours announced a Discovery Hub research and development center and work began on a new Newark railroad station, long viewed as key to the further development of the campus.

4. The budget crunch

Legislators confronted a budget gap of upwards of $400 million in June and opted for a combination of fee hikes and budget cuts. Nonprofits took it on the chin with a 30 percent cut.

The $4 billion budget was signed by the governor a day after a deadlock at lathe end of the session led to a brief delay.

There were few signs that the long-predicted structural budget deficit would be addressed. That meant, the budget misery could return in a year or two. The General Assembly did agree to a more detailed process of dealing with the issue as a way to avoid late-night legislative sessions that some critics claim lead to poorly thought-out decisions.

5. Economic development restructuring

Legislators enthusiastically went along with a plan to form. A public/private partnership to replace the Delaware Economic Development Office.

The plan was touted as a replacement for DEDO, which had its share of critics in Dover.

However, the reality of the situation was that while a dozen or so staffers lost their jobs, a sizable portion of DEDO ended up under the office of the Secretary of Stare.

As of the end of the year, work was still under way on reorganization of small business activities that ended up as part of the myriad of agencies under the Secretary of State’s umbrella.

There were fears that those activities might be lost in the shuffle in an office that does everything from incorporate companies to regulating professions in medicine and other areas.

Meanwhile, the public-private Delaware Prosperity Partnership was up and running after getting $1 million in revenue from private sources, along with $2 million from the state.

The agency was the target of criticism from the News Journal over the lack of transparency and legislative-driven exemptions from open meetings laws.

John Riley, a former Ashland and Hercules executive and economic development veteran who had pushed for the partnership, agreed to take over as interim director.

The partnership was part of what many viewed as a long-shot effort to bring Amazon’s second headquarters to Delaware, but there were lingering worries that the entity was underfunded and lacked institutional memory that is vital in economic development.

The need for economic development focus was evident as the state felt the impact of the downsizing of DuPont and other companies. The state’s unemployment rate, for the first time in a couple of decades, was higher than the national average.

6. Construction and development remain strong

The heavy-highway construction industry had a good year as major road projects continued south of the C&D Canal. An extension of Route 1 with interchanges got under way south of Dover and the massive Route 301 bypass took shape.

Health care provided a big boost as the high-rise hospital campus of Bayhealth campus in Milford loomed over the countryside.

To the south Beebe Healthcare announced a major expansion of its Coastal Sussex facilities and Christiana Care’s expansion at its Newark-area campus continued.

As noted above, the University of Delaware’s STAR Campus was another busy location.

Also driving construction activity were mixed use projects

Buccini/Pollin, a locally based development company continued to add apartments in downtown Wilmington, while buying the landmark DuPont building, which will see a major renovation project.

Late in the year, demolition was under way at the Bancroft Mills complex near the Brandywine, which will see residential development under BPG.

Work was also under way at BPG’s Concord Plaza office park north of Wilmington, which will see a mixture of offices, apartments and perhaps restaurants.

Meanwhile work was under way at the former Stuart Kingston site at the edge of Little Italy will see a mixed-use residential and retail project.

The Capano interests also weighed in with an apartment development on the riverfront, but struggled with plans to build a residential project at the former Brandywine County Club.

The year wrapped up with Buccin/Pollin and the Philadelphia 76ers announcing a $25 million field house and athletic fields complex.

West of Wilmington, homegrown incorporation and business services company CSC opened a new headquarters in the Little Falls area. Also acquired was a nearby building that eliminate offices in a number of locations.

Meanwhile, Delaware made headway in plans to redevelop industrial sites that could provide future jobs.

Harvey Hanna and Associates bought the former General Motors Boxwood plant near Newport and immediately went to work to freshen up its appearance while studying options.

The company, which has already held meetings with neighbors and the community, has worked about dozens of development scenarios for Boxwood, but has not come up with a final plan.

Facilities that would allow heavier manufacturing will be kept for a time in hopes that a candidate will emerge. So far, interest in the site has come from companies looking at distribution or light assembly locations.

Meanwhile, St. Louis company was wrapping up the demolition of the former Claymont steel mill.

In both cases, it is hoped that the projects will draw a diverse list of manufacturing and high end distribution companies.

Developers are also hoping that the current strong conditions in the industrial market will continue a while longer. At year end, Harvey Hanna was constructing a 100,000-square-foot flex building in New Castle after seeing the vacancy rate fell well below 5 percent.

Also active in the market was long-time office space developer Ernie Delle Donne. Delle Donne snapped up the Christiana Executive Campus south of Newark and the AstraZeneca campus in north Wilmington. The company ia also the private developer at UD’s STAR Campus.

7. Growth and frustration in Sussex

The state’s southernmost county continued to see development along the coast, with officials seeking to broaden an employment base tied to tourism, retailing, the broiler industry and service businesses.

The county worked to revive a business development fund aimed at attracting higher wage manufacturing jobs.

The county’s mainstay poultry industry was growing with Perdue, Allen Harim and Mountaire continuing to make investments, with Mountaire building headquarters space and Perdue moving its agribusiness unit headquarters across the line from Salisbury.

Mountaire, meanwhile, acquired a poultry plant in North Carolina while working to resolve wastewater treatment issues at its Delaware processing plant.

Allen Harim is consolidating production at its Harbeson site, building a new hatchery in Dagsboro and late in the year disclosing plans to move its headquarters to a former pickle plant in Millsboro from Seaford, while also adding a deboning plant at the same site.

The industry was seeing increasing concern from residents over its modest expansion, perhaps a reflection of a growing population with no ties to the county’s agricultural heritage.

One county councilman, who headed Donald Trump’s campaign efforts, saw a right to work ordinance as the answer to the need for good jobs. The ordinance bars unions from collecting dues. The measure is expected to be considered in January. If passed, it would likely trigger a legal battle, since the state believes it has jurisdiction over employment issues.

Meanwhile, Seaford passed a right to work ordinance after seeing employment dwindle at the Invista site that was sold by DuPont Co. and at one point employed thousands. The job total, while not disclosed by Invista, may total less than 100.

Rehoboth ended up with a new mayor after the 30-year incumbent was ousted. However, he quicken ended up in a controversy over whether owners of homes with a 50 percent interest n a home owned by a limited liability company can vote in local elections.

Most states do not allow part-time residents to vote in municipal races.

8. Kent County’s recovery picks up steam

The home of Legislative Hall saw steady growth during the year as retailer growth returned to the Dover area with the opening of new stores.

The former Walmart site was developed into a power center with several stores and other developments were in the works. The center was sold for by its developer a healthy sum.

The city that often served as the first Delaware location for chains had been hit by closings at Kmart and other retailers, with DuPont Highway looking forlorn for a time.

Dover saw Edgewell (formerly Energizer) add jobs at its personal products plant, after closing a site. in Canada.

Holding back the momentum was stagnant and even lower total employment at the two big drivers of the economy, state government and Dover Air Force Base.

The tourism economy was steady, but still suffered from fewer fans at at the two NASCAR weekends. The impact was partially blunted by the Firefly Music Festival in June.

9. Incyte expands again

The pharmaceutical company cut the ribbon on an expanded headquarters at the site of the former Wanamaker store just outside the city of Wilmington.

The company’s flagship blood cancer drug Jakafi moved the company toward the $1 billion annual sales mark. With a stock market value of more than $20 billion, the company was working to add to its pipeline.

The company, which spent much of its existence in Delaware at the DuPont Experimental Station, was rumored to be eying space in that complex should its R&D expand further.

Rival drug companies were rumored to be eying Incyte, but nothing occurred in 2017, with some speculation that Incite might instead be a buyer.

10. New mayor, governor and county executive up north

Michael Purzycki took the reins of the city in January after succeeding the chaotic first and only term of Dennis Williams.

Purzycki, the former head of the Riverfront Development Corp. found a Chicago Police veteran to head the Wilmington department and made other moves in an effort to reshape a city bureaucracy that has long been viewed as unresponsive.

A city budget managed to pass the council.

The wave of homicdes continued, buy the mayor and police chief seemed to get at least a year-long honeymoon from severe criticism.

Matthew Meyer, meanwhile, took over as County Executive after a victory over Thomas Gordon. Gordon saw an alliance four years ago with Williams collapse as both sought second terms.

Like Williams, Gordon saw continuing controversies regarding top managers and sometimes poor relations with the County Council.

Meyer and council were able to hammer out a budget without dreaded property tax increases. However, controversy over actions of the County Council President erupted late in the year.

John Carney realized his ambition to become governor. However, a sluggish economy, problems with Wilmington and its school system, and the budget did not leave the new governor with much of a honeymoon.

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