Kent seeks to parlay headwinds into 2021
DOVER — Still riding high off its success with the U.S. Corrugated’s $80 million plant groundbreaking in December, Kent Economic Partnership (KEP) Executive Director Linda Parkowski has her sights set on what will be the next big thing.
In the past year, central Delaware leaders banded together to attract businesses to Kent County, but Parkowski and her office are seeking to continue innovating their efforts to get in front of prospects, even amid the challenges of the global COVID-19 pandemic.
“One of the greatest things we’re trying to do is identify any potential suppliers, because now we all know how the supply chain broke during COVID,” Parkowski told the Dover Economic Development Committee on Tuesday. “It’s extremely important to think, ‘What companies do these suppliers need for us to go pitch them to bring it closer?’”
One new sector KEP is looking to tap into is food processing, which could blend the county’s rich agriculture history with its boom of industrial space. Parkowski said that in the next couple of weeks, a food processing site selector will host a request for information exercise to see where the county stacks up for such projects.
Combined with service equipment and handling, food processing is a $100 billion market, and has seen a huge turnaround in profit in the last five years compared to other industrial sectors, according to a 2018 study conducted by McKinsey & Company, a management consulting firm.
In terms of inventory, the KEP will be focusing its next marketing efforts on hundreds of acres of land west of Route 1 and east of the Civil Air Terminal. Some pockets of industrial space exist among the open land, like the Kent County Aero Park and the shovel-ready Garrison Oak Business & Technology Park.
“It’s a phenomenal industrial area, and we need to promote it as one central area. We’re looking for a cool name for it,” Parkowski said. “First step, we’re reaching out to all the existing businesses with a letter of introduction first.”
Kent County is still focusing on industrial and distribution, and hopes to reach new heights in the upcoming years. To build off recent wins, a site selector that specializes in industrial and manufacturing will be coming in 2021. During a three-day tour, the selector will meet municipal leaders and offer insider knowledge on marketing and who in the industry should county officials target.
Parkowski has also been thinking about what a post-COVID marketing world will look like, as her first year on the job entailed hitting trade shows and conventions. With most of those canceled in 2020, her office has spent time filming virtual site tours for properties like the former Playtex site off Route 13 and Division Street, the former Harris Manufacturing site in Smyrna and others.
“We’ve already sent these out to prospective companies, and it includes a tour of the inside the building,” Parkowski said. “In this post-COVID world, we need to do more of these kinds of things.”
Capitalizing on video, KEP has also started a video testimonial series with the county’s largest employers, Kraft-Heinz and Edgewell Personal Care. These “heavy-hitters” would help Kent County tell its story to larger companies looking for new space.
In the meantime, Kent County officials are still progressing on various studies that address barriers to economic development: transportation and broadband internet access. The Kent County Broadband Committee is expected to issue recommendations to the Delaware General Assembly to improve access and affordability by the end of this year. Several transportation studies are underway, including freight studies and the civil air terminal for the Central Delaware Aviation Complex.
In addition, Rockport Analytics is preparing a second study that will focus on Milford, Smyrna and Dover as well as the available workforce highlighted in the targeted sectors.
By Katie Tabeling