Experts See Potential for a Bright Post-COVID Future
Demand for new talent in key sectors is set to continue
Before the onset of the COVID pandemic, manufacturing, construction, health care and financial services all were pillars of growth for Delaware’s economy. While the pandemic has resulted in uncertain times for employers across the board, experts are optimistic for future growth and hiring in these four sectors.
The Delaware Prosperity Partnership (DPP) is a nonprofit tasked by the state with helping companies expand in and relocate to Delaware. In 2019, DPP’s pipeline of projects expanded considerably, and as of last December, DPP was working on 63 active projects, with the potential for more than 5,000 new jobs.
Now, even with the impact of the pandemic, the number of projects has grown to 64 as of June 30. So far in 2020, DPP has successfully located eight projects in Delaware, accounting for 1,479 planned new jobs and $315.9 million in planned capital investment, according to Michele Schiavoni, DPP’s director of external relations and marketing.
While the shape of the post-COVID world is still emerging, several experts believe Delaware has the potential to be just what companies in key sectors might be looking for in a new location.
“We’re a less densely populated state, yet we have easy commuter access to a significant portion of the country’s population,” says Bryon Short, executive vice president of the Delaware Contractors Association. That “could put Delaware in a sweet spot.”
Below is a breakdown of what the experts are projecting for future growth and hiring in the key sectors of manufacturing, construction, financial services and health care.
Like most employers, manufacturers faced some novel challenges during the coronavirus outbreak, especially relating to disruptions in the supply chain. But the pandemic has also been an opportunity for Delaware’s manufacturers to prove their resilience and flexibility in the face of changing times, says Michael Quaranta, president of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce and a member of the board of managers at the Delaware Manufacturing Association.
“Most manufacturers continued to operate during the COVID-19 shutdowns, because many of them were deemed essential,” he says. “They also pivoted to producing things we’re desperately in need of. Painted Stave Distilling started making hand sanitizer. … It’s no small feat if you think about it.”
Painted Stave and Dogfish Head Brewing, he adds, each “basically stood up an entirely new production line to use alcohol to make sanitizer and then fill different containers, and they did this in an incredibly short time.”
Post-COVID market shifts also could work out well for manufacturers, says Kurt Foreman, DPP’s president and CEO. For example, given the disruptions in the global supply chain caused by the pandemic, “companies will be thinking differently about where or how many places they want to source products and components,” he says. “That bodes well for the U.S., the Mid-Atlantic and for Delaware.”
Much like manufacturers, construction businesses continued to operate during the pandemic. While there have been some slowdowns in private-sector work in recent months, “on the public project front, our work has continued, and highway work in particular has been strong,” says Short.
What’s more, Short sees a continuing need for new talent in the sector even if private-sector work doesn’t recover immediately. “There is still work,” he says. “The need for a skilled workforce in the construction industry is still very real.”
There is already evidence that the private-sector projects that were put on hold are starting to bounce back, says Ed Capodanno, president of ABC Delaware.
“Individuals have been brought back after being laid off,” he says. “The need for workers at this point may not be as great as before, but there is still a need, and there will be a need as we move forward.”
Few sectors were as severely disrupted by the pandemic as health care. “Hospitals have lost a lot of money because, for several months, they were not treating patients who didn’t have critical procedures,” says Wayne Smith, president and CEO of the Delaware Healthcare Association. “This has caused some hospitals to lay off or furlough employees. However, hiring for the long term in health care is filled with opportunity.” Especially with Delaware’s reputation as a mecca for retirees, he says, “demand will grow for health care workers.”
Of course, there is a lot more to the health care sector than hospital staff. For example, the COVID-associated boom in virtual medicine will translate to greater staffing needs for companies supplying the underlying technology, says Quaranta.
“There’s all sorts of really great career opportunities in health care that are not drawing blood or doing direct care,” says Foreman. “These kinds of jobs are helpful and important both to Delaware’s future as well as enabling people to have a meaningful and lucrative career path.”
Financial services has always been a growth sector for Delaware, and experts see that trend continuing. In recent years, technology has become an ever more important component to banking, and COVID has further accelerated that trend, says Quaranta. “We just went through an experience where almost 100% of retail spending suddenly went online. That requires the transfer of money, and those channels were available for most retailers and, by extension, consumers, to do business with.”
That positive experience, he says, “could push even more businesses to increase their ecommerce footprint.”
Foreman agrees that IT job openings in the financial-services sector will continue to increase. “In Delaware, a lot of cool, entrepreneurial financial-services firms are using the demand for online services to deliver more innovative tools.”
By Tina Irgang Leaderman