New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer has a lot on his plate these days but that's nothing new to the former math teacher at Prestige Academy, who once had a weekend to prepare for additional classes after another teacher quit. In this interview with DBT Editor Peter Osborne, he discusses the importance of focusing on job creation and his three largest goals as he looks forward to 2020: increasing state funding of paramedic services; protecting the environment; and continuing to build a talent pipeline.
What is your biggest success to date in 2019? 11,980. That's the number of job opportunities for Delawareans currently in the land use pipeline we created, appropriately called Jobs Now. We have streamlined government functions, and that is correlating directly to tremendous job creation activity in the county. That means if you count up the employment associated with every land use plan currently active in our land use processes, there will be nearly 12,000 jobs. Some of these are jobs requiring advanced degrees that are building products for the world, like at Incyte and Adesis and Prelude Therapeutics. Other jobs are high-quality, lower-skill jobs, such as at DOT Foods, North America's leading food redistributor. DOT Foods is initially creating more than 100 jobs here. You can get hired unskilled and within five years have your commercial driver's license and earn over $100,000 annually.
The unemployment rate nationally is at historic lows. And in New Castle County it is about half a percent lower than the national average.
There is no greater service we can provide than creating a vibrant job-creating environment, where residents of our county have abundant opportunities to engage in meaningful work. We take that responsibility seriously, and we made great progress this past year, with both small and large employers, with in-state and out-of-state companies with opportunities for those with advanced degrees and those with limited formal education.
We all know that in Delaware you can get five politicians to cut a ribbon when a company creates just one or two jobs. Seeing almost 12,000 jobs in our pipeline is meaningful to our county and our state.
What do you anticipate will be your biggest regret for 2019 (e.g., something that didn't get passed, a company that chose to go elsewhere)? There is a state and national standard that paramedics arrive to 90% of incidents in the county within nine minutes. Currently, only 63.8% of incidents are responded to in less than nine minutes. The cost of our paramedics is paid for by a state and county cost share. In the past 15 years, the state has decreased its share by about half. We worked hard in 2019 with state legislators to increase the state share. This would transform our paramedic service across Delaware, and, we believe, have a dramatically positive impact in saving lives. We could not get the state legislative support. We are already working diligently to get this done in 2020.
When you call 911 because your loved one may be breathing their last breaths, I want you to know we have the finest 911 and paramedic operation in the world.
What's your biggest goal for 2020? Government must be excellent stewards of the air we breathe, the water we drink and the land on which we live. I personally am concerned that the federal government is not protecting us against potential harm the way it should be. Earlier this year we announced a GreeNCC agenda to protect the environment in which we live. We have passed legislation to promote the financing of alternative energy projects in commercial buildings and to expand the number of large-scale solar generation projects in the county. Our actions to protect against building in floodplains resulted in the Federal Emergency Management Agency providing a 20% decrease in flood insurance premiums to anyone carrying such a policy in New Castle County. We are protecting against contamination of our water supply and reducing sprawl, defining more clearly our sanitary sewer service area, while limiting large-scale building on septic systems. We have proposed actions to protect against deforestation, to promote the planting of native species and to protect the precious scenic viewsheds in so many parts of our county. We would like to see those proposed actions turned into ordinances that garner County Council support.
What's the biggest business-related challenge facing the county? What I hear from nearly every employer, both in Delaware and around the world, is they are in search of quality talent. We need to have the best pipeline to create talent and the quality of life to keep them here. We developed 1000 Kids Coding to make sure middle and high school students who had limited to no access to software development learned skills that can be applied in almost any 21st century job. We are working to line our county with bikeable, walkable paths, so families can live, work and play without ever getting into a car.
I also enjoy talking to employers to get a clearer understanding of their challenges. There is no one-size-fits-all in terms of working with companies to grow here and attracting new ones to come here. It is important to listen to a company's obstacles and work with them to address it so they can grow here for years to come.
What's your top priority for the upcoming legislative session? For the past century, land-use policy in our country has been driven primarily by the automobile. Today, with self-driving cars on the horizon and ambitious, employable millennials eager to work in environments where they can commute by walking or cycling, we have a tremendous opportunity to be among our nation's leaders in rethinking the regulations that govern the communities in which we live.
In 2016, Gov. Markell signed the "Complete Communities" bill into law. The law incentivizes building communities that are bikeable, walkable, and transit-oriented and was supported by groups like Bike Delaware, AARP, the American Heart Association, and the Chamber of Commerce. We are working closely with the town of Newport to create the first Complete Community in Delaware and we will be putting forward state legislation to help make that happen.
How difficult is it/will it be in juggling your job responsibilities and a re-election campaign? Five years ago, midway through the school year teaching mathematics to fifth- and sixth- graders at Prestige Academy in Wilmington, the principal, Jack Perry, called me into his office. A teacher quit. He needed me to add a few seventh-grade classes to my roster. I had one weekend to prepare. It was a lot more work. I managed. My seventh-grade students thrived.
Re-election will be a lot more work. We will manage. And we will thrive.
Serving the residents of New Castle County has been one of the greatest privileges of my life. I look forward to continuing to serve them another four years. I really enjoyed knocking on thousands of doors four years ago, learning so much directly from the constituents of this county, meeting so many people, and turning their knowledge and opinions into policies that serve our county.
New Castle County voters are sophisticated and pay attention. Through the next year, we will continue to lead this county smarter into a safer and greener future. We are laser focused on doing a good job for you.
How do you see your role in supporting growth within the City of Wilmington and how's your relationship with the Mayor and his team? Do you have goals in that respect for 2020?
The relationship Mayor [Michael] Purzycki and I have is among the strongest between a Wilmington Mayor and a County Executive in a generation. I value Mayor Purzycki's friendship, wisdom and knowledge. We recently collaborated to announce, in collaboration with HUD, one of the most ambitious efforts at lead abatement in our state's history. In 2020, we are eager to get the abatement work started. There is zero reason why a child in 2020 should live in an unhealthy home.
We also coordinate our policing strategies to help reduce crime in the city and the county, and we are working to increase bikeabilty between all of our cities and towns. The mayor and I both care deeply about the city, as the governor does, and are committed to collaboration so that every neighborhood can succeed, without exception.