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Committee of 100 mixes old-school efforts with new ideas

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By Michael Bradley
Special to Delaware Business Times

The Committee of 100 has a proven strategy of using information, influence, and relationships to foster a better business climate in Wilmington. But the 50-year-old group is also blending its old-school methods with new ideas.

That’s why the Committee’s offices are headquartered inside the 1313 Innovation Center, a cutting edge co-working space in downtown Wilmington. Executive Director Paul Morrill said he hopes to position the group for future success.

“We need to be in the Innovation Center,” he said. “There are new innovation stations in Wilmington,
and that’s good news.”

Morrill said that some of the Committee’s work has remained consistent since 1967, when it began working with Delaware legislators and regulators to make the state a more welcoming for business development. Over the last half century, it has worked with constituencies on all sides of major issues.

The Committee doesn’t advocate on behalf of specific firms’ interests, choosing instead to work on creating conditions favorable for a wide spectrum of businesses.

“They are our partners,” said Rich Heffron, president of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce. “They don’t weigh in on every issue, because we are involved in a broader menu of things. But this is an important partnership, and we have gotten a lot accomplished. We have similar goals when it comes to economic development.”

The Committee of 100 has representatives from various industries throughout Delaware. Its members tend to be high-ranking executives, rather than junior staffers assigned to participate.

That provides considerable firepower when it’s time to address an issue, according to Michael Scali, an attorney with Gellert Scali, Busenkell & Brown in Wilmington and a board member of the Committee.

For instance, when Delaware was trying in 2003 to lure AAA’s Mid-Atlantic office to the state, a move that would result in 750 jobs, the Committee staged a dinner event that paired executives from the automotive club with elected officials and corporate leaders. AAA Mid-Atlantic is now a Delaware fixture.

“We make sure we have people on the board from all of the important business sectors,” Scali said. “That allows us to have access to people who aren’t members, so that we can gather information.”

The Committee continues to get involved in important deals that could have long-term impacts on the state economy. One is the proposed restructuring of the Delaware Economic Development Office (DEDO) from a purely public concern to a public-private model. The involvement enhances the group’s relationship with DEDO, which began 20 years ago, when the office was created. The Committee helped fund some promotional brochures and videos for DEDO then and now hopes to be a substantial partner with the newly created model.

“This will allow for a more consistent process,” Morrill said. “[DEDO] will be able to hire an executive director and pay him or her private sector wages.”

By continuing to work for a better climate regarding economic development, the Committee brings its 50 years of history into the present. But all involved understand that the real challenge is creating a future presence that has an impact. Although the membership and board remain populated by more seasoned professionals, Morrill and others are aware that building relationships with and serving emerging businesses is vital.

One of the ways the Committee has been attracting attention from those in the tech community is by staging its networking events in the late afternoons, rather than as dinners. Another way is by making sure to address a more comprehensive menu of topics.

“We have made a conscious attempt to look forward at newer and more varied issues than we have before,” Scali said. “We are still very much real estate and land use-based, but our horizons are broadening. As the world changes, we change.

“Everything is more integrated. We’re not out in front in technology, but we aren’t putting our finger to our nose and saying, ‘That’s not us.’ We have enough experience on the Board that we can address many things.”

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