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Economic Development Insider Only Kent County Manufacturing & Distribution News

Kent economic efforts reaffirmed by new study

Katie Tabeling
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Warehousing, distribution and logistics remains a top sector for Kent County, per the revamped Rockport Analytics study completed this summer. | PHTO COURTESY UNSPLASHED/JAKE NEBOV

DOVER — The latest version of the Kent County Target Industry study suggests that county economic officials are on the right track when it comes to marketing the county to prospective companies.

Rockport Analytics reaffirmed that Kent County was best positioned to attract manufacturing, health care, warehousing and distribution companies to its borders. That reaffirms what the Annapolis-based research firm found when they studied Delaware’s smallest county and its workforce and drive-time in its first report in 2018.

But the latest study — dubbed Rockport 2.0 by the Kent Economic Partnership — also took an in-depth look at the workforce in the targeted industries for the county as a whole, as well as Dover, Smyrna and Milford. 

“We’ve followed the original study like it was a blueprint and we’ve had great success in small to medium manufacturers locating to central Delaware. But what that first study didn’t answer for us was, ‘Do you have the workforce to recruit for that industry?’” KEP Executive Director Linda Parkowski told the Delaware Business Times.

In Kent County, distribution and warehousing reported a $939 billion demand in 2018 as well as 2,913 jobs. Average warehouse and logistics salaries were $67,000 per year.

Parkowski said she was surprised to find the targeted sectors relatively staying the same, as she thought potentially with demographics of aging may shift those.

“In retrospect, it’s really good we started back in 2018 identifying which industries to break into,” she added.

But Rockport 2.0 did identify two new sectors that were emerging in Kent County: light manufacturing and fabricated metals. Light manufacturing had 1,057 jobs in 2018, while fabricated metals had 534 jobs. However, fabricated metal companies added 120 jobs between 2016 and 2018.

The study also noted that Kent County’s relatively low land costs were an advantage specific to warehouse, distributing and manufacturing companies.

Rockport Analytics also provided Kent County and the municipalities an Excel-based search tool that shows the range of jobs needed for top job sectors, as well as number of existing jobs and salaries. It also compares jobs and salaries per sector for the metropolitan areas of Philadelphia/Camden as well as Salisbury.

“The study shows if you want to base your business in Smyrna, it’s a 60-minute drive time to get to southeastern Pennsylvania and South Jersey,” Parkowski said. “If you want to position your business in Milford, you start to get in the Salisbury market. So that level of detail is critical when you’re thinking about finding the workers you need.”

While much of the KEP’s visible efforts over the past two years has been focused on warehousing and distribution, health care has also steadily grown in the county. Wins include Polaris Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center and the Milford Wellness Village, Bayhealth and its expansion efforts, Delaware Imaging Network and ChristianaCare’s forthcoming primary care office.

In Kent County, health care had an estimated $1.3 billion demand and 10,533 jobs in 2018, according to the study. Average salaries were reported at $63,000 per year. 

In addition, Smyrna, Dover and Milford would make ideal candidates for light manufacturing due to the solid transportation access along Delaware Route 1 and U.S. Routes 13 and 113, the study reports. 

Smyrna has 33 light manufacturers that employ an average of 45 people, while Milford has 17 facilities that employ 90 people. Key sub-sectors Rockport Analytics identified that crossed over all three municipalities were food-based manufacturing, as well as frozen food, bottled and canned soft drinks and more.

Parkowski said that her office looks at marketing Kent County as a whole, and the Rockport 2.0 study will be a tool to continue that. Even though many of these target sectors overlap in municipalities, she doesn’t see it as creating competition.

“We’re drawing all of Delaware in Kent County, and right now workforce and recruitment is highly competitive, no matter where you are,” Parkowski said. “Any time we have a serious inquiry, Rockport 2.0 will provide that workforce data as needed – and our municipalities now have a better idea of what industries will work best in their borders.”

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