[caption id="attachment_213999" align="aligncenter" width="1024"] Formalizing a promise made more than a year ago, Carney signs into a law that establishes a Site Readiness Fund to help Delaware remain competitive. | PHOTO COURTESY OF GOVERNOR’S OFFICE[/caption]
MIDDLETOWN — Fulfilling a promise made more than a year ago to get more properties shovel-ready for prospective employers, Gov. John Carney signed a bill Tuesday that created the state’s Site Readiness Fund.Under Senate Bill 127, the state will create a $10 million fund for grants, loans or other economic assistance to businesses or public entities that invest in constructing, renovating, or improving infrastructure for sites that would attract job-creating projects. The goal is to get sites ready for development within six months to a year.“If you don’t have a site ready for a prospective employer, you’re going to lose out on those jobs,” Carney said while surrounded by lawmakers and business leaders at First State Brewing Company in Middletown. “We compete every single day for the future strengths and jobs that power our economy … [this] is about producing sites ready for development as we continue to compete with states and regions across the country.”Carney first proposed the Site Readiness Fund in the Fiscal Year 2021 capital budget, but after the COVID-19 pandemic rocked the world he pulled the proposal to ensure there was enough state funds to withstand the fallout. The state ended the fiscal year with a nearly $1 billion surplus, so the Carney administration revived the measure.Sponsored by State Sen. Jack Walsh (D-Stanton) on behalf of the governor, SB127 passed both the Senate and the House with a near-unanimous vote in late June.In Delaware, there is ample open land, particularly south of the C&D Canal, but not much in terms of infrastructure like sewer, water and natural gas. Smyrna in particular lost out on the state’s second Amazon fulfillment center in 2012 when officials said that infrastructure would be laid when the e-commerce giant arrived. Amazon then moved to Middletown off Route 299, taking hundreds of jobs with it. To put it simply: when faced with a choice, businesses won’t choose the site under construction.“In the private sector, when we look for things and opportunities, we look for things that are going to work,” CSC CEO and Delaware Prosperity Partnership Co-Chair Rod Ward said. “A sign that says ‘under construction’ when you have other choices, just doesn’t work.”Today, Middletown is known for several big names near the U.S. Route 301 corridor like Datwyler Pharma Packaging, the coming Breakthru Beveragesheadquarters and the recently-announced WuXi STA Pharmaceutical campus that will deliver upward of 1,200 jobs.Carney credited Middletown Mayor Kenneth Branner for the boomtown’s meteoric development, noting that the town’s forward-thinking in terms of water and sewer infrastructure helped pave the way. The two first met when Carney worked for the New Castle County government and hammered out details of the sewer infrastructure in Middletown years ago.“It was a situation where if we built it, they could stop waiting because they were ready to come,” Carney added.Top state business leaders and county government officials heeded the warning from prospectors and started exploring options. NorthPoint Development built more than 2 million square feet of warehouse and distribution space at the Delaware City Logistics Park over the past few years, beginning on speculation and drawing tenants like Amazon, Dart Container and Newacme.Smyrna officials also started to lay infrastructure at the Duck Creek Business Campus, which finished its first speculative building this month. In Sussex County, county leaders struck a deal with Seaford officials to pay $1.88 million in infrastructure as KRM Development Corp. will build an industrial park.Walsh, who also sits on the Delaware Prosperity Partnership board of directors, said the Site Readiness Fund was the culmination of years of hard work.“The DPP has been talking about this for three years, because it puts us at a severe disadvantage,” Walsh said. “I work in the construction industry so I see it day in and day out with different businesses that don’t come here because we’re not moving fast enough. This will help us get there.”Rep. Bill Bush (D-Dover), who co-sponsored the bill, thanked Carney for his pro-business agenda, including creating the Transportation Infrastructure Improvement Fund (TIIF) and establishing the DPP.“This is an incredible tool in our toolbox. This sends a message that we are competitive and it will lead to new opportunities,” Bush said.