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Carney aims to use stimulus to support training, development

Katie Tabeling

Gov. John Carney is reportedly looking to use some of Delaware’s stimulus funds to support economic development| PHOTO COURTESY OF GOVERNOR’S OFFICE/JASON MINTO

WILMINGTON — With Delaware set to receive $1.25 billion from the American Rescue Plan stimulus plan, Gov. John Carney told state manufacturing leaders that his administration would be exploring avenues to fuel the First State’s economy.

“Our focus will be making further investments in our economic infrastructure that do not bring additional costs with it, making Delaware more competitive so that we can compete and win every day,” the governor said during the Delaware State Chamber’s Manufacturing and Policy Conference on March 24.

The American Rescue Plan (ARP) stimulus that President Joe Biden signed earlier this month has made headlines for pushing $1,400 directly to many Americans. But the $1.9 trillion package also helps state and local governments continue core services, like unemployment insurance, and funds another round of the Paycheck Protection Program along with new loan programs for restaurants and event venues.

But Delaware emerged from 2020 in comparatively good standing, as fiscal analysts recently lifted the state’s spending limit to $5.4 billion for the next fiscal year. Carney is looking at a record-breaking $4.7 billion Fiscal Year 2022 operating budget and $894 million capital budget. 

“From a budget point of view, we are ready to accelerate out of this pandemic,” Carney said.

The extra federal funding may be able to pave the road for a strategic plan to streamline development in Delaware, although Carney did not say what that may entail.

When we’re talking about two years to spend some of [the ARP] money, it can take you two years to get through plant engineering and architectural work and permitting for construction, start to finish, of a project of any size,” Carney said. “We appreciate any help that we can get. We need significant help in the private sector, particularly in the construction sector, to get those projects done.”

Carney also hinted that he was also looking at shoring up workforce training initiatives like Forward Delaware, on which the state spent $10 million of federal CARES Act funds. Forward Delaware brought various nonprofit and other organizations together to provide certification training to help residents pivot to a new career or sharpen their skills.

“We’re going to take another look at it and [add] manufacturing. It’s a good opportunity to work with people to come up with some kind of certification program that really meets the needs of manufacturers here in Delaware, whatever they might be,” the governor said.

In the next decade, American manufacturers will need to fill 4.6 million jobs, but 2.4 million will go unfulfilled by 2028 unless the workforce is trained to meet them, according to a 2018 Deloitte skills gap study. That would result in a $2.5 trillion gross domestic product loss for manufacturing firms.

Carolyn Lee

Carolyn Lee, executive director of The Manufacturing Institute, a nonprofit advocate for manufacturing, encouraged business leaders to look into programs and partnerships to upskill the workforce during her keynote speech. She commended Carney for his investment in workforce training initiatives, but added that manufacturing still has to overcome a bad reputation. She noted that only 27% of parents have a positive perception of manufacturing jobs.

“If the image of an assembly line is what they have, I can understand that,” Lee said. “We have to show them the reality of modern manufacturing, get them excited about the technology and let them know that there’s a place for countless skills, from designers to coders to technicians. I’ve seen robots that you can control with a smartphone across the country, virtual technology and 3-D printing is now routine.”

To win over hearts and minds in the manufacturing sector, Lee pushed business leaders to open up their shops and let people see what they do.

“The change starts locally, and you can be that change,” she said.

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