Lawmakers talk tech, wages, exports
The Council of State Governments’ Eastern Regional Conference brought 526 legislators and spouses to the Wilmington Riverfront August 16-19.
Two governors, a Ben & Jerry’s executive and columnist Eugene Robinson were among the speakers who addressed the crowd of elected officials.
“Me and 70,000 other Wilmingtonians appreciate your being here,” Wilmington Mayor Dennis P. Williams told the delegates.
“We want you to come to our city. We want you to spend your money,” Williams said. “And, if you spend it all, we’ll lend you some, and you can spend that too.”
The conference, which filled all 180 rooms at the Westin Wilmington and overflow rooms at the Hotel du Pont, is the largest gathering of state elected officials and Canadian provincial officials in the East.
“It’s a remarkable opportunity for us, as the Riverfront and the City of Wilmington, to show off the city in the best light,” said Michael S. Purzycki, executive director of the Riverfront Development Corp.
“The Westin was full, and we were over our target at the Hotel du Pont, so we were happy with how well our sponsors and our venues were supported,” said Sen. David Sokola, D-Newark, who chaired the host committee with Rep. Helene Keeley, D-Wilmington South.
“The spirit of the CSG is exactly what we need in this country right now,” Gov. Jack Markell said in his welcome. “It’s not about politics. It’s serious people talking about how you can grow an economy. For everything that so many people think is wrong about our political system, the antidote is in this room.”
Sokola said among the most heavily attended seminars were keynote speaker Matthew Slaughter, the Dartmouth College dean who discussed the American economy, the governor’s roundtable featuring Markell and Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the luncheon discussion of the Implications of the Attack on Fact in Politics and the panel on raising the minimum wage.
Jeff Furman, chairman of the board of Ben & Jerry’s, had the largest crowd waiting around him after his discussion on raising the minimum wage. Some wanted to congratulate him; others wanted to debate him, Sokola said.
“Ben & Jerry’s minimum entry-level wage is now $16.92,” Sokola said. “Jeff Furman is a believer that the people who do well in America ought to do well by America. He said his employees feel like part of a team, not part of a staff.
“Some of the people from the banks were very uncomfortable about how Jeff from Ben & Jerry’s was framing it,” Sokola said.
Speaking about Centreville resident Anthony Wedo, CEO of Ovations Brands, the buffet restaurant company, Sokola said, “The guy from the restaurant chain, he was like “˜the pie is only so big,’ and we’ve heard that so many times.”
Gordon M. Johnson, a New Jersey assemblyman, said his major interest was learning how to get businesses to invest in his state and how to sell New Jersey products outside the state.
Johnson said meeting with Canadian delegates made him realize the need for a more streamlined flow of goods between Canada and the United States. “We also have to understand that “˜Made in North America’ makes more sense than “˜Made in America,’ because components come from all over,” he said.
Jorge Suarez, a state senator from Puerto Rico, said he was most interested in technology such as micro grids that could bring Puerto Rico less expensive energy.
The conference’s 57 sponsors included local, national and international companies with ties to Wilmington, from Cozen O’Connor law firm to W.L. Gore and Associates. The Greater Wilmington Convention and Visitors Bureau contributed travel money because the conference met the required number of hotel room reservations, according to Executive Director Sarah Willoughby.
Sokola said the host committee highlighted Delaware attractions with spouse tours such as the culinary tour, the horticulture tour and the history tour.
Delegates’ children visited Hagley, rode the Kalmar Nyckel and Wilmington & Western Railroad, visited the Riverfront attractions and learned to row at the Wilmington Youth Rowing Association.
When delegates enjoyed the dinner chef Dan Butler prepared for them at Hagley Museum & Library on Tuesday night, he said they made sure to let the delegates know the chef owned two local restaurants, Toscana and Deep Blue.