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Viewpoint: Various groups are driving efforts to retain young people in Sussex Co.

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Joe Conaway
Guest Columnist

The Sussex Economic Development Action Committee (SEDAC) is cooperating with a new group called “Ready in 6,” whose main focus is to reduce the time that it takes to get approvals for economic development projects throughout Delaware to just six months. This group was developed out of a conference sponsored by the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce and CSC. 

The main point that came out of that conference is that it takes too long to move from permit application to when the project becomes shovel-ready. The panel in this discussion was led by Gov. John Carney and centered on panelists that described themselves as “national site eliminators.” Delaware Business Roundtable Executive Director Bob Perkins says the panelists told the attendees that “Delaware doesn’t even get into the funnel because it takes the state and counties up to 24 months to issue permits. They said, quite frankly, if you’re not close to the six-month mark, you’re not going to be considered. 

SEDAC joins a long list of other organizations who support the “Ready in 6” concept. This group includes the major players in economic development throughout Delaware and includes the Delaware State Chamber, Kent Economic Partnership, Greater Kent Committee, Sussex County Economic Development, Sussex Economic Development Action Team, ACED Delaware (American Council of Engineering Companies), the Committee of 100, the Central Delaware Chamber, the New Castle County Chamber, Delaware Contractors Association, the Delaware Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, and the Home Builders Association of Delaware.

Ever since SEDAC has been around, we have made our No. 1 priority the retention of our young people in Sussex County. That voice crying out in the wilderness was finally heard in Dover and we now have a program that may go a long way in helping our young folks stay home. The Delaware State Housing Authority has launched a $10 million initiative for prospective young home buyers that will provide recent college graduates the opportunity to buy their first home in Delaware by providing discounted rates on down payment assistance loans. As I understand the program, it will reduce down payments, closing costs, and first-mortgage interest rates. Monthly mortgage payments on a 30-year fixed loan could be reduced by as much as $70 to $80 a month. Income levels are available online at www.KissYourLandlordGoodbye.com.

The only fault that I find with this program is that it limits itself to college graduates. Why not those who bring their skills to our state? A young person who is in an apprentice program or equipped with technical skills like HVAC, carpentry, equipment operator, etc., should also be included. 

Sussex County has added another development tool to its economic development program. This program is called SIZEUP. It provides geographic market information for what appears to be the entire Delmarva Peninsula, including Sussex County. Other than being rather cumbersome to access on the County’s website, it does provide information for the business community that may be of value in making a decision to locate or expand here

The county is also promoting a first-of-its-kind offering in Delaware called Economic Gardening. This program offers growing businesses the opportunity to tap information, resources and capital that could enable them to be even more successful. Quoting from the county’s press release, “The County’s Economic Gardening initiative will identify and assist second-stage companies located in Sussex County by delivering customized data that addresses their strategic growth issues, and, in turn, provides grants to those second-stage companies that have moved beyond the startup phase but not yet reached maturity. Five grants of $5,000 each are available to qualified businesses that apply and are selected.” For additional information, contact Bill Pfaff, the County Economic Director, at (302) 855-7770. 

SEDAC has endorsed this program and encourages companies to explore it with the county.

I recently read an article in the Delaware Business Times that pointed to a study that supposedly ranks Delaware as the seventh-worst state in which to start a business. It appears that the state is providing grants to three organizations, two in New Castle and one in Kent County, to address this problem. I’m sure that they forgot Sussex County because SEDAC has been helping startup businesses since 2011 without any state funds by using existing state, federal and county groups. Apparently, the original grant was proposed in January but were only intended for New Castle but by late May when we became aware of the grants, Kent County had been added. Our request to join this trio was not added, which probably means that we are doing such a good job that the powers-that-be felt we didn’t need any help. Go figure.

Joe Conaway is chairman of the Sussex Economic Development Action Committee. 

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