Lessons  from Cecil County

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Good morning,

From time to time, we get questions about our reasons for covering business in neighboring Cecil County, MD. The answer is a no-brainer.

Over the past several years, the county has awakened from a long slumber that included a system of government dating back to the colonies and overall resistance to change. One examplecame in opposition and inaction in infrastructureimprovements, including extensions of natural gas service.

While the county’s inaction and the more enlightened policies in Maryland limited the sprawl that afflicts neighboring New Castle County, it also contributed to a stagnant economy with one of the highest jobless rates in Maryland.

The system meant that meaningful legislation had to go through Annapolis and legislators from the Baltimore and DC areas with little incentive to aid an increasingly Republican county.

Cecil now has a county executive, with the council having more room to pass legislation and a Maryland governorwho is paying more attention to outlying counties.

More importantly, the economy changed. The long-running boom in the logistics/distribution center industry and a stronger overall economy have sharply reduced the employment rate – down to 3.7 percent as of May.

While the impact was not as great as first estimated, the growth of the neighboring Aberdeen area after military research activities moved from New Jersey aided the economy.

Delaware is gearing up to become more competitive on the logistics side with Boxwood, Delaware City and (perhaps) Claymont sites in the works.

But Cecil already has an impressive roster of distribution centers from companies that include Amazon, Restoration Hardware, IKEA, German grocer Lidl, medical distributor Medline and The Container Store.

Also, in the pipeline is a massive Great Wolf Lodge hotel, meeting and waterpark complex on the western edge of Cecil. That project – outside the Wisconsin company’s playbook of targeting top tourism sites (think Poconos) – is probably coming to the county with the help of tax breaks from a state with far deeper pockets than Delaware.

Even long-time employers like rocket engine maker Lockheed-Martin, formerly ATK, plan to add staff.

Cecil’s economy is still tied to the ups and downs of neighboring New Castle County, which remains a job destination for many residents. Also, many of the jobs that have been generated come with lower pay scales.

The Susquehanna River and the $8 bridge toll (lower for Maryland residents and commuters) remains a barrier.

Still, things have changed. The lesson for Delaware is that a pro-business environment not wedded to the past can change things for the better.

New Castle County has made improvements in land-use practices. But perceptions linger. A “siloed” environment with a maze of state and county approvals and agencies with varying levels of responsiveness remains a barrier.

Enjoy this nice day before extreme heat and humidity make their July appearance.

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