Viewpoint: Demystifying Delaware’s economic development strategy
By Kurt Foreman
With the Delaware Prosperity Partnership now in its fourth year of operation, we’re seeing growing success in our efforts, but I continue to hear questions about our role and how Delaware stacks up among its competitors.
What do economic development professionals do?
The DPP team is about being in the right place at the right time to engage companies and their leaders as they are considering or actively planning for some sort of potential expansion or growth. Our customers are the companies who are operating here or willing to consider operating here. That may seem surprising since we are trying to help our communities or state, but the best way we can do that is to assist companies in choosing Delaware for the first time or choosing it again for the third, 12th or 50th time.
Sometimes we start by touring possible sites, sometimes it is discussing Delaware’s talent pool and other times we prepare responses on topics such as cost of doing business, taxes, infrastructure, and utilities. At times, we are digging for info to answer somewhat arcane questions for a prospect. One of the stand-out features for Delaware is its innovation ecosystem; it really is a part of Delaware’s DNA and one of the most gratifying things we do is supporting startups and entrepreneurs with a breakthrough idea as well as helping already established world-class firms. The variety of projects we see is always fascinating – often sharing common themes but always with a different angle or twist.
The ongoing foundational marketing work we do locally, nationally, and internationally is to build awareness of why Delaware is great place to work, live and play. What DPP and our partners do is help companies grow here so that it is possible for more of our fellow Delawareans to have the ability to raise a family or have the kind of life they aspire to here in our state. It is a deeply gratifying job to know we are helping people to work.
One of DPP’s priorities and key core values is our commitment to work collaboratively. I always remind people that “partnership” is intentionally in our name. Almost daily, we are in contact with our economic development partners throughout the state. Ensuring that together we create or market the “product” that companies want. We believe there’s no wrong door into Delaware because DPP and our partners share, collaborate, and help the customer get to the right resource at the right time.
It’s probably as important to mention what DPP does not do. We help our prospects understand what resources are available and what they may qualify for, but tax credits and incentives are exclusively within the State of Delaware’s jurisdiction and that is as it should be.
Delaware’s selling points
One of the most important things we do as economic developers is listen. A prospect may think he or she has to be in a specific spot and that there aren’t other options. By taking a broader point of view and listening, we often can identify multiple solutions in various parts of the state. That helps give prospects confidence that they’ve found the most optimal options. The key is building rapport and trust, so prospects know we have their interests at heart. Nothing damages an economic developer’s credibility quicker than steering companies somewhere that won’t work and may cause serious challenges.
Delaware has a tremendous variety of lifestyle choices from city living to small-town Americana and spectacular coastal communities. It also boasts a can’t-be-beat cost of living and a highly ranked business tax climate. Intangibles also make a big difference. Ask the executives who we have worked with, and they can tell you – it’s an authentic, neighborly state where decision-makers and influencers go out of their way to help. It’s one of Delaware’s most attractive benefits and our prospects experience it.
Judging from DPP’s journey to date. I believe that Delaware’s future is bright. The DPP model, collaborating with our public and private sector partners, makes the prospects’ experience a more positive one. Prospects see firsthand how authentically the public and private sector work to support them. That experience helps sell companies on becoming part of that culture and community.
I’m confident that companies will find what they need here to create a sustainable competitive advantage and that people will continue to see Delaware as a great place to live and raise a family. The good news is that Delaware’s brand is gaining momentum. Delaware is getting its well-deserved attention.
Kurt Foreman is president and CEO of Delaware Prosperity Partnership, the state’s public-private economic development agency.