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Sam Waltz: Gov. Carney should be focused on importing more New Yorkers

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Sam Waltz

The Chinese word for “crisis“ is, in Western popular culture is frequently said to be composed of two Chinese characters signifying “danger“ and “opportunity“.

Combine that with what your mother counseled you – “try making lemons into lemonade” – and you will understand where I’m headed.

The real questions Delaware business and civic leaders should be asking of their leadership are: Where is the lemonade and where is the opportunity?

I’d counsel Gov. John Carney or his successor – should he be succeeded in January, in that unlikely event – to consider the initials FCDA and to re-read the page from Gov. Pierre S. “Pete” du Pont IV’s playbook from 1980-81.

Those with enough “tree rings” to remember that timeframe four decades ago will remember that America was in the peak of its hyper-inflationary period, with everyday interest rates (e.g., mortgage money) often in the 18-20% range. I well remember my own 18% mortgage in that period. But the house in the Hockessin/North Star area I bought in 1978 for $100,000 was worth more than $300,000 in just a half-dozen years.

Those were the times.

What Gov. du Pont did was take the fight to New York and New York City for its banking business. Delaware’s FCDA, the acronym for the Financial Center Development Act, which Gov. du Pont and a handful of business allies brought to the Delaware General Assembly, removed the usury limits that had locked in the New York-HQ’d banks to a profitless business.

Delaware was rewarded by an influx of credit card (and related) banking business that forever changed the face of Delaware. Think MBNA. Chase. JP Morgan. Manny Hanny. Citi. Others.

Fast forward to the last weekend of July with accompanying stories on the front page of The New York Times on Saturday and Sunday.

One story on Saturday reported the abandonment of Manhattan, the loss of the allure of sophisticated (and expensive) living on the island that represents the epitome of American business, in the wake of the Pandemic to the benefits of suburban and hinterlands living.

One story on Sunday spoke of the implications for the New York Assembly, its legislature, of the primary elections there, accelerating its leftward shift from incremental to a dramatic thrust, effectively, as The Times reported, “making New York’s legislature the most liberal in America.”

Business in New York should see that for the draconian threat it represents.

More than 25 years ago, Bill Rolleri, a new acquaintance who I hired after he semi-retired to Hockessin from Manhattan, told me quite often, “you know, Sam, the problem with Delaware is you’re letting in too many New Yorkers.”

That may be, but I wonder if we’d feel the same way if we thought of them as part of our State’s “rescue plan.” It’s the economic development equivalent of “open borders” to the South, where many want to allow in cheap labor from the South. “Open borders” with New York would allow in capital and enterprises.

I’d encourage our Governor Carney to – starting right now – put together a strategic targeted recruitment effort to bring mobile New York City-HQd businesses and their affluent ownership to Delaware. Sell them on Wilmington. Sell them on the beach. Sell them on the fragrance of the poultry houses. Sell them on the University of Delaware, Del State and Wilmington University. But sell them.

Enough of us have experience with the commute to New York that we can detail just how easy it is to work nationally and internationally from Delaware Avenue as from Fifth Avenue.

Let’s put together – quickly – a plan.

The centerpiece should be a targeted strategy on New York and its environs, including North Jersey and Long Island.

Support it with our real estate industry. And our business leaders.

Don’t use the government and economic development apparatchiks, whose credibility with real-life business people may be suspect. Recruit your own “civil defense” team of volunteers from the business community, and put the apparatchiks in the “support role,” behind the scenes.

Let’s put our team on the field.  

Sam Waltz is publisher emeritus of the Delaware Business Times.

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