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Delaware’s small size, easy access make it a great place to live and work in the COVID age

The Wilmington Riverfront | PHOTO COURTESY OF GETTY IMAGES

The COVID-19 pandemic has established a new normal of remote work and social distancing. It’s a trend that could work out in favor of Delaware, which is known for its high quality of life and low density of residents. 

Michele Schiavoni

“Though it’s too soon to know if the pandemic will have a lasting impact on business location decisions, we are intentional in leveraging Delaware’s many strategic and distinctive advantages,” says Michele A. Schiavoni, director of external relations and marketing for the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, the state’s nonprofit economic development agency. “Delaware’s value proposition as a business-friendly state is getting more attention.”

Bob Beichner

Bob Beichner, economic development director for the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce, says Delaware’s appeal “just makes sense. Why pay high D.C., Philadelphia or New York rents when you can be in Delaware and still have easy access to all the talent, capital and resources?”

Interest grew in 2020 for the Emerg-ing Enterprise Center, the chamber’s incubator on the Wilmington Riverfront that Beichner manages. He expects that interest to accelerate further as more entrepreneurs grow comfortable being out and about in a vaccinated world. The chamber last summer successfully ramped up programming for all those people working from home.

Beichner believes that Delaware will also draw more urban residents concerned about the time they spend in high-rises and their crowded elevators, as well as millennials who want yards for their kids. 

Michael Quaranta

Michael Quaranta, president of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, also is starting to see some evidence of another factor that could help boost the First State: the presence of a Delawarean in the Oval Office. “International businesses and international leaders are looking at Delaware because they know the President is from here,” he says. “They’re putting their eyes on Delaware and its assets and considering it as a place to do business.”

Easy Access and a Deep Talent Pool

Delaware’s access benefits for entrepreneurs are considerable: 60% of America’s and Canada’s population is within a two-hour flight of Philadelphia International Airport, which is just 12 miles from Delaware. Frontier Airlines in February resumed low-cost seasonal service to Orlando, Florida, from Wilmington-New Castle Airport, which boasts a recent $2 million upgrade. 

For train commuters, the Joseph R. Biden Jr. Railroad Station in Wilmington is Amtrak’s 15th busiest, with frequent service to Washington and New York as well as points between and beyond. As far as logistics and supply chain access go, a third of America’s population is within a 10-hour drive of the Port of Wilmington.

Delaware and the adjoining Greater Philadelphia region are home to one of the largest talent pools in the U.S. A lot of those workers are graduates from the region’s 100 or so colleges and universities, which include the University of Delaware, a nationally renowned research institution; Delaware State University, an HBCU with a growing reputation for scientific excellence; Delaware Technical Community College, which offers a wide range of certificate and associate degrees to help workers sharpen their skills; and Goldey-Beacom College and Wilmington University, both of which offer well-regarded programs that help working adults gain additional credentials. 

World-class health care is another perk of being located in Delaware: The First State has been ranked No. 1 in the nation by U.S. News & World Report for hospital quality.

Supportive Environment for Businesses

Another important item on the list of benefits: more than a dozen programs and tax credits for Delaware businesses, such as the R&D Tax Credit and the Angel Investor Tax Credit.

In 2020, Verizon considered access, talent, capital and three other resources to rank the best small cities in the U.S. to launch a business. Wilmington came in at No. 17, out of 300 cities between 50,000 and 75,000 in population.

The other factors in Verizon’s rankings were income (Delaware’s is 8% higher than the national average, according to the partnership), tax burden (Delaware is ranked No. 13, according to the Tax Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank) and high-speed internet access, which has been a major focus of Gov. John Carney’s administration.

Delaware’s supportive business environment was also recognized by the New Jersey Business and Industry Association, which placed it at No. 1 among seven states in the region. 

The First State’s laws also make it particularly easy to incorporate. As a result, more than a million limited liability companies incorporated in the state in 2019. Delaware’s Chancery Court and Superior Court have a nationwide reputation for their expertise on matters of intellectual property — a key issue for innovators.

“We continue to be the domicile of choice for members of the Fortune 500 and newly public companies, with approximately 89% of all U.S. initial public offerings,” Secretary of State Jeffrey W. Bullock wrote in his latest annual report. All this action generated more than $1.3 billion for the state in fiscal 2019, which ultimately allows for lower taxes overall on Delaware residents and companies doing business in the state.

‘We Just Kind of Fell in Love’

When workers aren’t working, they have the entire Mid-Atlantic’s cultural and culinary attractions at their disposal. Not to mention the world-renowned estates and gardens in and around Delaware, or the state’s beautiful beachside towns.

Scott Thomas

“People are looking to flee,” says Scott Thomas, executive director of Southern Delaware Tourism. And they can be lured by the possibility of new homes in what he calls “the land of high living and low taxes.” 

Although quarantines and travel restrictions reduced the number of visitors to Sussex County’s famed beaches last summer, he says visitors stayed longer into the fall and on weekdays, too. “The potential to work remotely was always there, but with technology and all the tools out there, it’s real.”

People are spending more time in their second homes in Sussex, and that exposure can encourage them to abandon the rat race for Southern Delaware’s charms, Thomas believes. “Our open space is appealing for those in crowded cities and suburban sprawl,” he says.

“The business executives, site selectors and professionals that experience Delaware are seeing firsthand that its enviable East Coast location provides access to just about anywhere,” Schiavoni says. “The cost of living is affordable compared with surrounding areas in the Mid-Atlantic, and there is a remarkable diversity of lifestyle options from cities to smaller towns and, of course, our fabulous coastal communities. Another distinctively Delaware advantage is its commitment to building on our culture of innovation supporting startups and entrepreneurs.”

“The pandemic is accelerating the idea that people can live wherever they want to be,” Thomas says. “Everything starts with a visit.”

Serial entrepreneurs Rich and Beth Kahn were such visitors. They devoted a summer to researching communities with good schools, low crime and other attractive qualities of life that would justify a move from New York. “We just kind of fell in love with Middletown,” Rich told Delaware Business Times in an article about the Kahns’ latest business, Anura, which goes after online fraud. 

“Delaware is a small state where everybody knows everybody,” says Martin Ruffert, a German entrepreneur who decided to relocate his European startup to Delaware. “To get to know somebody on top of the ladder, you can just give them a call or meet them at the gym.” 

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