NCC Econ. Dev. Director Tamarra Morris retires
NEW CASTLE – Tamarra Morris, the economic development director for New Castle County, retired earlier this month.
Her departure opens the chief economic development role for Delaware’s most populous county as it is tasked with protecting businesses affected by the COVID-19 pandemic while also seeking to attract new employers.
Morris told Delaware Business Times on Thursday that she and her husband were retiring to Costa Rica, a plan they had hoped to start this past summer before the pandemic scuttled it.
County Executive Matt Meyer said he was sad to learn of Morris’ decision to retire and credited her with “transforming” the way that companies looked at doing business in the county.
Morris has helmed the county office since January 2017 as she joined the then-nascent Meyer administration after he pulled off an upset win over incumbent Executive Tom Gordon in the 2016 election. She took over the role from Marcus Henry, who had held it for four years under Gordon but moved over to head the county’s Department of Community Services under Meyer.
It was Morris’ first public position after previously serving as new business development, sales, and marketing director for the real estate management firm Greystar. Upon taking office, she said one of the first major tasks was changing New Castle County’s reputation of moving too slowly in development.
She and Meyer went on a six-month listening tour to start their tenures and in the end, they created the expedited plan review process known as Jobs Now. The program, eligible for projects that create or expand jobs, brings all permitting and review agencies together to head off obstacles in the process and benchmarks progress to an applicant’s timeline.
“That accelerated process was a breath of fresh air for a lot of these companies that were searching for a less expensive option from a surrounding state,” Morris said, noting that before it some site selectors and companies wouldn’t even let New Castle County participate in requests for proposals. “We knew we had to become competitive and that started with making sure our process was not a piece to the puzzle that was causing us to be disqualified.”
Morris pointed to Incyte’s headquarters expansion as the first major success of the Jobs Now program, which later was also able to land the $37 million Dot Foods distribution center in Bear over a competing bid from Baltimore.
“I’m not the biggest fan of giving property tax breaks to the Amazons coming in, and so Tamarra’s wooing of large companies was often more about charm than tax breaks. I think she has a tremendous record with respect to that,” Meyer added, noting the prospect pipeline during her tenure included projects totaling nearly 12,000 jobs.
The county executive also credits Morris with aiding the county’s smallest businesses as they looked to raise capital and find markets.
“Tamarra really laser-focused in on small business and entrepreneurship startups,” Meyer said, noting she particularly helped connect those led by women and minorities to get access to capital. “She got us to invest resources in groups like First Founders and partner with the county chamber, Junior Achievement Delaware, The Great Dames, and more.”
Morris said that her successor will be immediately confronted with supporting the county’s businesses as they try to survive the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Everyone’s looking ahead, everyone is hurting, from our small businesses to our nonprofits. I think making sure that we are moving as quickly as possible to address the needs of those communities is going to be key,” she said.
The county is currently advertising for the position, offering between $81,000 and $120,000.
By Jacob Owens