First State has unbeatable location advantages for entrepreneurs.
Small is sometimes better.
That’s the heart of the message that Delaware’s business community is sharing with entrepreneurs and out-of-state executives who are contemplating starting, relocating or expanding their businesses in the First State.
The message itself isn’t new. The state’s “Small Wonder” tourism slogan of yesteryear was equally relevant to the economic development realm — and still is today.But many of the voices lauding Delaware’s business assets today are folks who have only recently put down roots here — like Kurt Foreman, who arrived four years ago to become president and CEO of the newly created Delaware Prosperity Partnership.
In his relatively short time here, Foreman has noticed a significant change. “We’ve gone from being a little sliver on the map to becoming a viable and competitive spot for attracting new business from outside the state while also helping firms in the area grow,” he says.
Despite dealing with the shock of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Partnership has helped broker 46 projects for businesses to locate or expand in Delaware from 2018 through February of this year. Those projects are projected to result in a capital investment of nearly $1.4 billion, creating about 5,000 new jobs and retaining about 2,000 others.
Carla Stone, as president of World Trade Center Delaware, focuses on bringing companies with international exposure — importers and exporters alike — to Delaware, primarily through the Port of Wilmington. She hawks the state’s geopolitical advantages— like being midway between New York City and Washington, D.C. — as well as those of the port. “We’re 16 to 18 hours closer to the Atlantic thanBaltimore, eight hours closer than Philadelphia,” she says, adding the tantalizing claim that “there’s only one stop light between us and Chicago, Florida and Canada.”
There’s much more to Stone’s pitch on behalf of the port, but of prime importance is what she’s learned in five years in her current role: “We’re big enough to have a lot of resources, and small enough to tap each other on the shoulder and say, ‘Can you help me?’
Delaware Removes ‘Obstacles to Growing a Business’
Serial entrepreneur Patrick Callahan, a cofounder of The Archer Group, the state’s first digital marketing agency, has seen firsthand how the little guys can successfully play with the big boys in Delaware. Callahan and his partner, Lee Mikles, moved Archer from a basement operation to a small office on the Wilmington Riverfront, transforming it eventually into a company in its own building with 50-plus employees. Now the company is part of a larger Chicago-based digital agency.
Mikles has moved into the restaurant industry and Callahan has deeply embedded himself in the digital world. He founded CompassRed, a data science research business that became a wholly owned subsidiary of LabWare earlier this year. Also ,in 2020, through CARES Act funding from New Castle County, he created the Delaware Data Innovation Lab (DDIL), which conducted a variety of COVID-19-related research projects for government agencies. DDIL merged with the larger Tech Impact nonprofit late last year.
Callahan says his experiences show that Delaware has “an environment that removes friction and obstacles to growing a business.”
He makes the case for connecting easily with both startups and power brokers. “We’re largely a product of coworking spaces, where you can rub shoulders with others who are experiencing the same issues and problems,” he says, then quickly pivots to refer to a traditional growth model: “To build a company, you need really good access to government, and access to the largest corporations.”
The spirit of collaboration among business and government leaders, coupled with a passion for networking, makes it easier for new businesses to settle in, Foreman says. “In Delaware, it’s not going to take you 10 years to break in,” he says.
Easy Access to the Resources You Need
Garry Johnson III, founder ofFirst Founders, an accelerator designed to promote minority entrepreneurs, echoes Callahan’s observations. “It’s easier to network here,” he says. “Delaware has a large, robust ecosystem. It’s easier to reach resource providers, especially in the banking-finance ecosystem.”
Over and over, that message resonates. “You don’t have to drive or go great distances to meet the people you need to complete a project,” says Mike Quaranta, president of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce. “[Business leaders]find this very attractive.”
Sometimes, Quaranta says, out-of-state business people have “a lot of unknowns [about Delaware] because the place is small, because we’re surrounded by more populous states. Sometimes they ask whether we have everything they’re going to need. The answer is an unequivocal ‘yes.’”
The access that Foreman, Johnson and Quaranta describe applies not only to connecting with the appropriate corporate, financial and government leaders but also to the talent in the state’s workforce and its academic institutions.
“This is a place where bright minds can do things. We are able to show that to people when they come to look,” Foreman says. As examples, he cites big companies like DuPont, Chemours and Gore, and the multitude of research activities at the University of Delaware’s STAR Campus and the Delaware Technology Park.
Another uniquely Delaware asset: the tremendous number of chemists and other researchers who once worked for DuPont and its various offshoots, and can now serve as mentors or consultants to the next generation of innovators.In addition to all that, the state has organizations focused on specific business sectors, like the Delaware BioScience Association and the Delaware Sustainable Chemistry Alliance (DESCA), which encourage entrepreneurs and welcome new arrivals to the state.
“Look at all the training and certification programs” offered by Delaware Technical Community College, Wilmington University and other institutions, and the ease of transferring credits between these institutions, Stone notes. These programs, she says, strengthen the talent pool for businesses within the state and build new arrivals’ confidence that they will be able to recruit the talent they need.
Another Key Asset: Delaware’s Central Location
In touting the state’s location, Delaware’s promoters emphasize that the state should not be perceived as competing against its neighbors — a losing battle if size becomes a primary criterion. Rather, they say, there are benefits to having access to another state’s resources while capitalizing on Delaware’s advantages. “We’re not in the middle of nowhere,” says Bob Chadwick, president of the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce.
“We can’t paint ourselves as an island,” Foreman agrees. “The geography that we’re part of makes up a large part of our case as well…. We’re part of a larger ecosystem in the mid-Atlantic.”
With easy access to Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Maryland, new businesses can recruit workers from four states and, depending on their sector and product lines, have easy access to markets in all those areas.
For busy executives, Delaware’s central location and Wilmington’s positioning on the Interstate 95 and Amtrak corridors offers another advantage. “There are very few places like Delaware, where you can have a late breakfast or lunch in a major city like New York or Washington and be back home for late afternoon,” Foreman says.
Executives looking to find new locations realize that their search must also consider what they — and their employees —will do during their hours away from the job, Stone says.
Delaware stacks up well in this regard, she says, rattling off attractions in the arts, opera, music, beaches, museums, dining and historic sites. Diverse international community organizations throughout the state provide an extra layer of comfort for global businesses interested in setting down stakes here, she adds.
“We’ve got good quality of life, cultural amenities and lots of educational choices here, and it’s easy to reach Philadelphia, Baltimore and D.C.,” Chadwick says.
At the same time, Delaware’s cost of living is highly competitive among its East Coast neighbors.
Three-quarters of the state’s homeowners spend less than $2,000 a month on housing and about 85% of the state’s renters spend less than $1,500 a month, according to the Delaware Prosperity Partnership.
So perhaps the question should be — why not Delaware?
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