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Corporate couplings, political sideshows: Business as usual for Delaware in 2016

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Sam Waltz

Sam Waltz
Founding Publisher

In the 1960s, people took LSD to make the world seem weird.

Now the world is so weird that people take Prozac to make it seem normal.

Which leads me to the question, what kind of year was 2016 in Delaware? Weird? Normal? Did Delawareans need drugs to get through the year?

What were the top 10 stories of the year?

In some ways, they seem a bit typical, based on standard topics of the chemicals and banking industries, along with a bit more political turmoil than usual, not a lot of economic growth, and no end to the killing fields that led to Newsweek’s “MurderTown USA” nickname for the Wilmington area.

Such Top 10 lists often reflect change. Change is more often incremental, not Trump-like dramatic, but 2016 seemed to have its fair share of dramatic change.

1. Matt Meyer succeeds Tom Gordon as New Castle County Executive.

Tom Gordon had picked up some dents over the years, in reputation, as well as in his well-regarded political stewardship, but political newcomer Matt Meyer effectively exploited the chinks in Gordon’s armor to win election.

Now, what’s he to do? Meyer arguably has the state’s second-most-important political position, but has done so without the usual “farm league” experience in politics that builds the seasoning, contacts and a team.

2. Mike Purzycki succeeds Dennis Williams as Wilmington mayor.

On the other hand, Dennis Williams seemed like roadkill from the day he announced for re-election. The big question was whether a black or white mayor would be nominated by the Dems to succeed him in the majority-black city. With an impressive resume and a more impressive political organization and effort, Purzycki claimed it all. Now, the problems are his, but the centers of influence in the city are hopeful for their choice.

3. Congressman John Carney succeeds Jack Markell as Delaware Governor.

This was predicted years ago. Nothing new here, folks, move right along. Even the cabinet team will remain largely intact from Markell.

4. J.P. Morgan Chase grows in Delaware, acquires shrinking AstraZeneca headquarters space.

The good news on the beleaguered Delaware business front has been the continued growth of JPM Chase, with the location of one of its regional data centers in Wilmington, necessitating the acquisition of the newer half of the AstraZeneca campus. Now, will that continue with JPM Chase buying out the rest of the AZ campus?

5. Delaware Board of Trade (BOT) fails to open as promised.

The BOT folks tell me they’re in a “soft opening” now, as they scale, and they’re ticked off that The News Journal suggests they’ve failed to launch as promised on the taxpayers’ dime, with early-stage venture capitalization by New Castle County taxpayers. Truth may be somewhere in between. The jury still is out.

6. Bloom Energy fails to achieve its promised job creation.

Thanks to The News Journal, the jury is NOT out on the boondoggle called Bloom Energy that the Markell administration stuck Delmarva Power ratepayers to capitalize. The paper effectively documented the shortcomings of the Silicon Valley firm’s move east with yet early-stage venture capitalization by unwilling Delawareans! Many fear this will be the ugliest black mark on the Markell legacy.

7. “Grow Your Own” is Delaware Business Roundtable’s turnaround strategy.

The jury still is out on whether the much celebrated boom in co-working, lofts and others will be the precursor to economic redevelopment that the Delaware Business Roundtable is hoping in its 2017 strategy. The University of Delaware is bringing more to the game with its OEICP catalyst. But Delaware still seems remarkably short in terms of an organized and structured approach to early-stage capital.

8. DuPont HQs jobs survive Dow merger, spinoff Chemours stays in Delaware.

This columnist “called” the DuPont moves a year ahead of time, two years ago, and they’ve proven out. There’s nothing subtle about mating elephants, or their dismounts in the case of Chemours. All three companies – the two DuPont Dow spinoffs and Chemours – seem likely to continue in Delaware, but without the scale Delaware valued.

9. Pettinaro growth anchored in Greenville, with little broader development.

It’s more of an “insider story,” but, alongside the bally-hooed growth of the Buccini/Pollin Group (BPG), the Pettinaro companies in their second-generation leadership under Greg Pettinaro and his sisters, children of founders Midge and Verino Pettinaro, are emerging as even larger players, moving beyond the “value” segment to the upscale 19807 ZIP code!

10. Social pathologies of failing education, unemployment, drugs and gangs, with single-parent families continue to fuel “rot at the core” of Delaware’s biggest metro area.

“Ho-Hum, another murder in Wilmington. What else is new?” That jaded reaction is what frustrates city leaders and centers of influence, who are trying to turnaround a city that seems rotten at its neighborhood core. Coming from the city’s majority minority community, a variety of black mayors failed to turn it around. Now, the city turns to a traditional white guy mayor. Hope abounds. Experience tempers.

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