By Kathy Canavan
On his first day in the office, Gov. John Carney signed an executive order to consider a public-private partnership between business leaders and the state’s economic development office. The businesses could contribute more than $1 million to the effort, one executive said.
Carney said the economic downturn is evident in his hometown of Claymont, where industries that once provided thousands of jobs with good middle-class wages have shut down.
With his office crowded with legislators from both parties, Carney signed Executive Order Number One. “We will determine whether there are ways to do (economic development) more efficiently and more effectively in a business-government partnership,” Carney said. “I let these business leaders know I was all in on exploring this idea, but it’s got to be a two-way street,” the brand new governor said. ”If it’s going to work, the private sector has to be all in as well. And, if you’re going to change laws, the general assembly has to be all in as well.”
Democrat Sen. David McBride, president pro tempore of the Senate, said jobs is the number one issue he hears from constituents. “I am committed to working with you as I’m sure the Senate is committed. Whatever you want to work on, just call us.
“It’s a brand new era of which you are going to be in charge,” said Democrat Speaker of the House Pete Schwartzkopf. “And I look forward to working with both sides of the assembly in a bipartisan manner to do things for our state.”
“We’re all in and ready to engage,” said Republican Minority Leader Dan Short, who said the economic shift is obvious in his hometown of Seaford, where a Dupont stop sign and a traffic light were removed because there was no traffic after Dupont’s nylon plant shrank to about 150 employees.
The Delaware Business Roundtable, a group of CEOs, suggested a partnership that would be able to tap private-sector expertise and resources in July.
Terry Murphy, incoming president of the business roundtable, called the order a very positive step. “The entire business community looks forward to working on this program with the Carney administration and the legislators and with all the stakeholders,” he said.
Robert W. Perkins, executive director of the roundtable, said members would be willing to contribute their expertise and upwards of $1 million to the effort, but their immediate focus is getting started on the partnership work.
With several DEDO staffers in the room, Carney gave a shout out to DEDO: “DEDO has done incredible work recently and throughout the years. This is really not to criticize the work that has been done but to do more of it.”
DEDO Director Bernice Whaley will serve on the working group along with four businesspeople, the governor’s policy director, one member of the public, two Democratic and two Republican members of the general assembly, chairs from the public and private sectors and representatives from the higher education, nonprofit and labor communities.
Whaley said her role going forward will depend on which direction the working group takes, but, in the meantime, it’s business as usual at DEDO because there are projects in the works. Perkins said the group will study other states’ successful tactics, such as Arizona creating a development office in California. “Why doesn’t Delaware with its fin-tech expertise have an office in New York?” he suggested.
Carney put it this way: “If we’re going to be successful and we’re going to be compete with bigger states – and just about all of them are bigger than us – we’re going to have to be smarter and we’re going have to be quicker and we’re going to have to work together.”
The group’s report is due in April, and Carney said some action could be taken the end of legislative session in June.