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Kent economic summit takeaway: Our turn now

Col. Ethan Griffin

Col. Ethan Griffin

By Kathy Canavan

Kent County officials touted what their burgs and businesses have created at the eighth Kent County Annual Economic Summit on Tuesday. They emphasized they are no longer slower, lower Delaware.

Instead, Kent County has become a hub with 57 manufacturing companies now in place and 4,752 manufacturing jobs. The average annual wage, with benefits, is $51,000.

“With that kind of wage, you can send your family to college. You can buy a car and your can buy a house,” said James Waddington, director of Kent County Economic Development. “Our manufacturing is a shining star for Kent County.”

Smyrna Town Manager Dave Hugg said Kent County towns sometimes feel like stepchildren. His message to the rest of the state:  “It’s our turn, guys. We really need to be at the front of the line. That’s our message to the elected officials outside Kent County.”

Col. Ethan Griffin, commander of the Dover Air Force Base 436th Wing, said the base is the state’s fifth largest employer, it has a $563 million impact on the state, and the Air Force investment in Dover is $10 billion.

Griffin touted the base’s recent Abilene Trophy recognizing the best community partnership in the Air Force.  He said base partners with local small businesses for supplies and services and invites business and community leaders to serve as honorary base commanders.

Christine Kubik, community relations specialist for the Delaware National Guard, invited providers to work with the guard through its vetted network.

Hank Rosenberg, COO of Harrington Raceway, said the track bought most of its food from major distributors until about five years ago when they focused on buying from local small businesses too. “We figured we would be spending a little more money when we started buying from our local community but we figured we would be keeping the money in the community,” he said.

When he noticed the price of milk at a local dairy was 50 cents less per gallon than he had been paying, he thought it was a mistake. It wasn’t. He thought the quality might be lower, but he discovered it was as good or better.

After milk, they bought meat, food, craft beer, spirits. The local vendor program kept growing. Last month, the track spent $57,000 with local food vendors alone.

The raceway began featuring local vendors names on menus and signage.

As the raceway made connections with the community, they initiated internship programs and employee volunteer programs.

Firefly at Dover International Speedway is now the largest camping music festival in the country. Michael Tatoian, CEO of the speedway, said the festival draws fans from 50 states and 34 countries for acts like Paul McCartney and Foo Fighters.

Tatoian said Imagine Dragons was a fledgling band when it played at the first Firefly, but, when the band won a Grammy two years later, it gave Firefly credit for its success.

The festival formed partnerships with 75 Delaware businesses, hired 3,000 weekend employees and 40 different Delaware fire, EMS and law enforcement agencies.

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