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Greater Kent Committee rebrands amid expanding reach

Katie Tabeling

Now the Kent Sussex Leadership Alliance, the nonprofit will focus on addressing economic issues  for both Kent and Sussex counties.DOVER — The Greater Kent Committee, a coalition of CEOs and top-level business leaders in central Delaware, is rebranding and expanding its reach into Sussex County, and into legislative matters.

Now called the Kent Sussex Leadership Alliance, the nonprofit will focus on addressing economic issues through projects to improve the quality of life for both Kent and Sussex counties. The membership is close to 100, all holding top positions within their companies or organizations.

Roughly 70% of its membership is active in Sussex County, either by doing business or having an operation based there.

“Our expansion efforts hope to ideally get to 150 members,” said David Blaeuer, president of the Kent Sussex Leadership Alliance and executive director of First State Orthopaedics. “I would say that having 150 CEO-level members representing downstate Delaware can represent a large swatch of the downstate community with one voice – and that’s the biggest component.”

The Alliance will also focus on having a more significant presence in Delaware’s General Assembly, starting at forming a government relations committee to eventually hiring a lobbyist to represent their interests – while staying out of what they call “social issues.”

The key difference between various local chambers of commerce in the state that also have strong advocacy arms for businesses of all sizes, the Alliance hopes to wield gravitas with its high-level membership.

“We see this as engagement not just having a lobbyist working on our behalf, but calling upon leaders to see if they can work to support initiatives that are being done,” said Bill Strickland, president of L&W Insurance and past-president of the Greater Kent Committee.

“Business leaders tend to know each other, and here, they tend to be folks who have lived here long enough to understand that being part of ‘downstate’ means working harder to get things done,” he added. “From a legislative perspective, the power is largely based in New Castle County. So by combining the two counties, we’re not only growing in size, but also our stature to allow our agenda to be heard better.”

Other key initiatives for the nonprofit include taking on even bigger projects, leading to greater economic impact as well as workforce development improvement.

The Greater Kent Committee, created in the 1980s, was traditionally a nonprofit that focused on taking on projects to improve quality of life in central Delaware. One of the most notable signs of its success was the DE Turf Complex, which later got the signed support of all elected officials in Kent County, across party lines.

But a closer look at the membership data in 2022 revealed that many current members have a presence in Sussex County, which caused the organization leadership to rethink its future. After a discussion at a meeting of the Greater Kent Committee past presidents last summer, it was discussed to move forward with expanding its geographic reach.

The Alliance will maintain aspects of the structure with the Greater Kent Committee held, with its committees on workforce development, quality of life and its executive committee that guides the organization’s path forward. A seat on the executive committee is a six-year commitment. Presidents of the organization hold the position for sometimes a maximum of two years, and typically move through the ranks of the executive committee.

In the new year, the Alliance will focus on visibility in Sussex County, with members starting conversations with other business leaders, as well as forming new partnerships with Sussex organizations. Once a lobbyist is hired, the Alliance plans on hosting a presentation to talk about legislative priorities and what matters to its members.

“We want our members to have a conversation, so we can find our focus,” the Alliance’s Executive Director Shelly Cecchett said. “But the next year is really about getting our name out to those in Sussex who don’t know us. It’s honestly exciting. I can tell you I’ve never had a project where I’ve had more members stand up and ask how they can help.”

The Greater Kent Committee has been known for staying under the radar, preferring to “work without claiming credit,” Cecchett said. But with expanding its presence and focusing more on the activity happening in the state capital, that may change.

“It’s to be determined. Some of that has to change, and some will change, I think,” Cecchett said. “It’s never been about notoriety. It’s been about action and moving our initiatives forward.”

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