Carney stresses economic development in State of the State
DOVER ““ Many of the state’s business leaders were anxiously waiting to hear what Gov. John Carney would prioritize in his last State of the State address of his first term, and they didn’t have to wait long to hear the governor’s economic development priorities.
Carney led his annual address on Thursday, Jan. 23, with highlights of his administration’s economic development programs, including support for small businesses, investing in needed infrastructure and growing the next generation workforce.
“Our focus through all this has been to make Delaware’s economy more agile, more innovative, and more sustainable. At the end of three years as your governor, I’m pleased to report that the state of our state is strong, and getting stronger,” Carney said.
The governor did announce $50 million in new economic development priorities, including the creation of a Site Readiness Fund that would allow the state to quickly convert existing properties to meet the needs of prospective employers. That comes in addition to the $10 million Transportation Investment Fund set up last year to quickly address transportation project issues connected to economic development projects.
“Many emerging companies have outgrown the Experimental Station or the Star Campus. So, we’re investing in lab space where they can keep growing here in Delaware,” he said of the Site Readiness Fund.
Carney also said that he wanted to expand the Encouraging Development, Growth and Expansion (EDGE) grant program that awarded nearly $1.5 million to 20 companies in its first year. He highlighted recipient W7energy owner Santiago Rojas-Carbonell, whose team is developing battery technology for zero-emissions electric vehicles and was in attendance for Carney’s speech.
Carney also thanked the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, a nonprofit entity supported by Carney that serves as the state’s economic development agency, for attracting over a thousand new jobs and preventing more than a thousand from leaving the state.
“Our goal is simple: We want companies to start here, to stay here, and to grow here,” Carney told lawmakers.
Carney, who made fiscal restraint a hallmark of his first term by digging out of a $400 million deficit, also said that he was preparing a budget that will limit spending to sustainable levels and use surplus funds for one-time infrastructure projects. His budget is set to be released later this month, and pundits are awaiting how he intends to use a current $200 million surplus.
“I will also propose the largest infrastructure plan in our state’s history, for the second year in a row,” he said, noting Delaware would invest $4.5 billion over the next six years to modernize roads, bridges and public transit.
The governor highlighted investments in broadband internet infrastructure, which recently brought high-speed service to parts of rural Sussex County that previously had spotty or no such service. He added that projects in Kent County would begin in weeks.
Carney said that the success of Delaware OneStop, a centralized platform that allows small businesses to easily get licensed with the state, has convinced him to create such a portal for all citizens to do things like buy a state park pass, register to vote, renew a driver’s license or check on snow closure. He’s tasked state Chief Information Officer James Collins to begin the project.
“This will be a game changer for our state,” he said.
In workforce development, Carney emphasized his $30 million Higher Education Economic Development Fund, which has supported the University of Delaware’s Star Campus, an automotive center in Georgetown and a training center in Middletown for Del Tech, and an aviation program at Delaware State University.
After the governor’s address, Mike Quaranta, president of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, said he was encouraged by what he heard.
“One that we’re excited about and gratified with is the investment in water infrastructure around the state because it’s a true need and these things are incredibly expensive to undertake. It’s going to require a lot of federal and state monies to make real progress,” he said of Carney’s pledge to invest $50 million in a Clean Water Trust Fund to address water quality issues affecting communities like Blades, with a special focus on low-income communities.
When asked whether he was disappointed that Carney didn’t directly mention the Ready in 6 initiative, spearheaded by the Delaware Business Roundtable last year, that produced a report on how to improving permitting and fast track project approval for employer prospects, Quaranta said the governor has “given that a tremendous amount of airtime.”
“This was his opportunity to talk about a lot of new things,” he added, noting the governor’s commitments to spend surplus funds on infrastructure projects and schools were “hugely important.”
“If you don’t have to borrow to do it, all the better,” he said.
Bob Perkins, executive director of the Delaware Business Roundtable, concurred with Quaranta on the lack of mention of the Ready in 6 initiative.
“You always prefer that a governor mentions an initiative as important as Ready in 6, but there are many pieces that go into a State of the State address,” he said, adding that Carney, as a co-chair of the state’s economic development agency, Delaware Prosperity Partnership, knows the critical importance of keeping Delaware competitive. “In the meantime, the business community is fully ready to make the Delaware economy more competitive with neighboring states. We expect to remain engaged with the governor’s administration and the legislature.”
With the State of the State address serve as an unofficial start of the annual budget process, Quaranta noted that the real work and legislative priorities will bear out over coming weeks and months.
“We also think that the governor, in his budget, will hit some of the workforce retraining ideas that we’ve put forward. We look forward to his budget message, and we’ll have to see how the legislature addresses those things,” he said.
By Jacob Owens