New governor sets economic development working group in motion

Following up on his promise to start re-thinking state government, Gov. John Carney on Jan. 18 took the first step toward revamping how the state works to attract and keep businesses.

In his first official act, Carney signed an executive order that would examine how to set up a public/private partnership with at the Delaware Economic Development Office.

The idea is to get private sector groups to work with state government in a way that would attract new companies, large and small, to the First State.

Carney’s order would set up a 14-member working group to report back to him with recommendations no later than April 7.

The Economic Development Office is a cabinet-level department within the administration; it currently is headed by Director Bernice Whaley.

Carney noted Delaware’s economy has changed over the years, particularly with the downsizing of the DuPont company. At one time, the state depended on DuPont for tens of thousands of jobs, but that no longer is the case, he said. To keep a healthy economy, Delaware has to rely on more, albeit smaller companies and to do that, it must attract those businesses.

“My view, as I’ve talked to people across the state, is that we need to do things differently, to incentivize and create an ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship,” Carney said.

The governor was acting on a recommendation from the Delaware Business Roundtable that in July 2016 issued a report, the Delaware Growth Agenda, that said many of the traditional job pillars in the state -- namely chemicals and cars -- no longer were significant sources of employment.

A public/private partnership was one of the recommendations coming out of the Roundtable’s report, Carney said.

“I think it is a good idea, but the devil is in the details,” he said. The working group will look into those details and come up with recommendations that could significantly change how DEDO works.

That could include an agency that’s funded both by the state and by private investment with both entities setting its goals, Carney said.

While Carney favors a single office overseeing Delaware’s economic expansion efforts, the result of the working group’s efforts might mean DEDO, or what it may become, no could no longer be a Cabinet-level department.

In the meantime, Whaley will continue as DEDO director, and will be one of the 14 members of the working group. That membership will include members of the General Assembly from both political parties, four members of the business community, members of the public, and others.

Carney acknowledged there is a risk with public sector involvement in that established companies might not want competition from businesses looking to move to the First State.

Carney’s move apparently has garnered bipartisan support, at least among the leadership in the General Assembly, as both Senate President Pro Tempore David B. McBride and Senate Minority Whip Greg Lavelle said they supported the initiative.

Private businesses should support the idea if it is to succeed, Carney said.

“I keep challenging the private sector, you’ve got to be all-in with me here,” he said. “I can give you four years, but you have to give me a commitment the other way.”

The governor said he’d like to see action on the proposals before the General Assembly adjourns on June 30.

“We don’t want to let this drag on forever,” he said.