Gov. Carney touts job wins in annual address
DOVER – Delivering his annual State of the State address, Gov. John Carney recounted a highlight reel of the state’s economic development wins through his first six years in office.
The speech was short on details for any new economic development initiatives that he may propose in his upcoming Fiscal Year 2024 budget that will be released next week though. Carney will have a record budget limit to utilize, but he likely to hew closely to the recommended spending plan outlined by state analysts that would leave a continuing surplus of hundreds of millions of dollars.
The governor, speaking before a legislature that contains the largest Democratic majority in decades, said he has “never been more confident” about Delaware’s future. That confidence is due in no small part to the state’s recent success in creating and retaining jobs.
“I believe that our success as a state must start with building a strong and growing economy. We know that a good job solves a lot of problems – and that’s not just political rhetoric,” he said — an oft-repeated refrain from the governor.
Carney spotlighted several projects that are transforming vestiges of Delaware’s past economy, including the economic revitalization of Seaford, which is recovering from the loss of a DuPont nylon manufacturing plant several decades ago, and the $500 million redevelopment of DuPont’s Chestnut Run labs into a science and innovation park.
He also credited the leadership of Mayor Ken Branner Jr. for the growth of Middletown in southern New Castle County, which last year attracted a major investment by global biopharmaceutical manufacturer WuXi STA Pharmaceutical to build a new campus in the town. That project was also supported by the presence of the National Institute for Innovation in Biopharmaceutical Manufacturing that was landed by the state’s federal delegation and the University of Delaware.
The governor also highlighted the creation of the public-private economic development organization, the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, as a driver for the state’s job wins while noting the successes of the Division of Small Business, which has helped entrepreneurs like Von and Nicole Homer who founded HX Innovations, a sports science company.
Despite those economic development successes, Carney conceded that the workforce shortage in the state is “unlike any I’ve seen during my time in public service.” He reported that employers have 37,000 openings statewide right now, with just 21,000 Delawareans seeking a job.
“Our state government sees those challenges every day. Across the executive branch agencies, we have 2,000 job openings and it’s harder than ever to find candidates,” he said. “This is not a problem unique to Delaware. In fact, every state in the country is facing similar challenges. And so our ability to compete will depend on our success building and attracting a highly skilled workforce. Our colleges and universities have never been more important in this work.”
Carney highlighted the growth of the University of Delaware, Delaware State University and Delaware Technical Community College as they have expanded research here and developed job training programs. He added that the state was committed to trying to keep as many college graduates in Delaware as possible.
The governor has already announced this week that he plans to fund a 3% pay increase for all state educators and a 9% increase for classroom teachers to help the state be more competitive with its neighbors. He will also add $15 million to Opportunity Funding that supports low-income students and $3 million for the Wilmington Learning Collaborative, which will support schools in Delaware’s largest city.
Carney did tease a handful of new state investments in his upcoming budget, especially around early childhood education in his upcoming budget, including an increase in purchase of care, which helps low-income families afford child care, and a doubling of funding for the Early Childhood Assistance Program (ECAP), which serves many of the most vulnerable 3- and 4-year-olds in the state.
Affordable housing will be “a priority in this legislative session,” according to Carney, who will propose new funding to support projects around the state.
On environmental and energy issues, Carney said that the “the effects of climate change and sea level rise on Delaware communities are real. We’re seeing them every day. That’s why we need to take action.”
He plans to “accelerate” the state’s efforts in building out electric vehicle charging infrastructure with the help of funding from the federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, and restore investments in the state’s Clean Water Trust, which support public water and wastewater improvements.
After the governor’s address, House and Senate Republicans said that Carney offered “very little substance” on how he was going to utilize the state’s budget surplus to aid business owners.
“There’s an awful lot of small businesses that are now hurting after the pandemic and I wanted to see some substance in how we were going to help them, mainly a tax reduction,” said Senate Minority Leader Gerald Hocker, who owns and operates two grocery stores in Sussex County.
The top Senate Republican also said he wanted to see the governor be more proactive in address the rising cost-of-living in the state, especially in areas like coastal Delaware where real estate values are booming, which could help attract new workers. The Republican leaders singled out the state’s gross receipts tax, realty transfer tax and personal income tax as three that could be reduced to aid small businesses and families.
Senate Minority Whip Brian Pettyjohn added that he believed the Carney administration needed to be more proactive on development regulatory reform. Last summer, he said he visited a Texas site for a future $100 million telecommunications plant that would be ready for groundbreaking just 160 days after proposal.
“My jaw dropped when I heard that. You could not get that done in Delaware in that amount of time. We need to look at the regulatory process. We’re looking at ‘Ready in Six,’ but that isn’t going to cut it anymore. We need to be ‘Building in Six,’” he said.