‘The welcome sign is going to be out for business’
By Kathy Canavan
Now that the DuPont Co. has left the city, could Wilmington flounder like other Delaware River towns that counted on their family-owned companies — Trenton after Roebling, Camden after Campbell’s and Chester after Sun.
Almost three-quarters of Wilmington residents now commute to jobs in the suburbs, and the median income for African-American families in the city was $33,641 in 2014.
Mayor-elect Mike Purzycki is betting Wilmington is more adaptable than those other river cities. “They were all manufacturing towns and what left was manufacturing. They didn’t have the workforce that was adaptable to another world,” he said. “Arguably, the kind of corporations we had has changed, but we still have great infrastructure — highways, rail access, the port. We have some of the best credit-card analytics in the world. I think our city has better fundamentals.”
The Philadelphia Fed recently cited Purzycki’s work turning the former city dump into an entertainment hub as an example of what postindustrial cities can do to create significant new sources of public revenue.
As mayor, he plans to tackle two issues that matter to businesses — schools and crime.
“I really want us to refocus on our school system, because I think that’s been an impediment for us for a while. I think now maybe everybody’s beginning to see it’s more of an impediment than we’ve seen it to be,” he said.
“Wilmington really has to deal with its reputation for violence, and the change cannot just be cosmetic,” he said.
He hopes to put shore up city finances by teaming with the county on some services and working with the state legislature to create long-term funding for the city.
“We don’t have the right to annex, and that’s a big problem. We can’t amend the wage tax, and we can’t impose new taxes,” he said. “What’s happened as result is the city winds up having some sort of financial crisis every so often and going to the general assembly hat-in-hand.”
Purzycki, a developer who owns Ivy Hall Apartments at UD, was labeled too pro-business during the campaign. The critics don’t faze him: “The welcome sign is going to be out for business. We are going to knock ourselves out to impress on businesses that we want them here. They are going to be a big part of what we’re doing,” he said.
“Where is the conflict in working with business people to help our city?” Purzycki said. “I can see there’s graft and corruption in some places, but it’s not going to happen here. The idea that some people would find a conflict in working with developers to put cranes in our skyline is an absurdity to me.”
He’s eager to install a city-wide 311 system that would respond to citizens’ questions in a timely manner. For example, residents and business owners who apply for permits, would be alerted when it’s their turn. Currently, the process takes so long that builders hire permit-sitters. “Anybody who knows me knows we’re going to see a big difference in the way we process applications,” Purzycki said. “I think methods have to change, but culture has to change too. If the culture is dotting every I and crossing every T, then things can get bogged down. The culture should be you’re a valued individual in our city’s health and we have
to treat you that way.”
Purzycki, whose volunteer work with the Hope Commission has taught him that job training programs are sometimes dead ends that don’t lead to jobs, is hoping to create job pipelines at businesses. “Job programs are training programs with very little end game,” he said. ““I’m about outcomes. I’m about results, and not about processes. I want to engage corporate citizens and ask them to commit to help with the placement side of things.”
“We have to incentivize people to provide jobs in our neighborhoods,” he said. “We have to focus on getting people to work, or else our neighborhoods are not going to function the way we want them to.”
Purzycki said his goal is to make the city work for all of its residents.
“The people who are really suffering are the poorest among us,” he said. “Everybody has to understand the objective here is to stop relegating our kids to the criminal justice system. If we don’t succeed, these children are going to be caught up in the system and, frankly, that’s like being caught up in hell.”
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