After a few weeks of digesting an independent analysis of Delaware’s permitting process, members of the Ready in 6 Coalition are saying that Gov. John Carney needs to publicly get behind the initiative – perhaps during his upcoming State of the State speech in January – by offering strong support, publicly recognizing the seriousness of the problem, and committing to action on the part of his cabinet and their staffs.
The KPMG report said Delaware’s disadvantage in landing regional economic development prospects could be reversed through streamlined communication between state agencies, greater transparency and cost predictability, and a fast-track approval program for high-priority projects. Delaware’s permitting process can take 24 months, placing it at a distinct disadvantage to Maryland, Pennsylvania, and at least three southern competitors, all of which can guarantee companies substantially faster permit approvals, KPMG reported. Streamlining the process to a consistent six months or less could also help Delaware overcome having less money for incentives to lure companies to the state, said members of the Ready in 6 Coalition in response to the analysis.
“The coalition needs to reconvene and start dividing up our action items and reprioritizing them,” said Jennifer Kmiec, executive director of the Committee of 100, a nonprofit association of Delaware business leaders that promotes economic development. “Most of the recommendations were aimed at government entities. The Committee of 100 supports the implementation of Transportation Improvement Districts. But we need the governor to clearly communicate to his cabinet leaders that that this is something they all need to get behind, and the Coalition needs to bring the expertise of our members to bear on the implementation of these initiatives.”
The governor said at a Dec. 10 Business Roundtable breakfast unveiling the KPMG report that his job is to enable other people to do their jobs better, and his role as it relates to this effort "is to make sure people embrace Ready in 6." After the meeting, he told the Delaware Business Times that the first steps toward implementation are setting up a group to translate the survey into administrative action; coordinating between state, county, and local government; creating an entity to oversee the effort; and developing metrics driven by advice from site selectors who have visited the state over the past 12 months.
“The next step in this process is going to be as important as bringing these issues to light in the first place,” said Michael Quaranta, president of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce. “The next step is identifying the policies, regulations, and laws at every level of government that are causing delays and lost opportunities. Once those are identified and alternatives are recommended, we’ve got to have a plan to go and make those changes.
The Ready In 6 Coalition comprises the Delaware Business Roundtable, Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, Kent Economic Partnership, Greater Kent Committee, Sussex County Economic Development Action Team, ACEC Delaware, Committee of 100, Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce, New Castle County Chamber of Commerce, Delaware Contractors Association, Delaware Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, and Home Builders Association of Delaware.
Two of the Ready in 6 recommendations from KPMG that could have a big impact include reducing the permitting timeline through solving issues prior to investment in high-profile projects and creating a prioritization program to expedite approvals similar to New Castle County’s Jobs Now initiative, said Delaware Business Roundtable Executive Director Bob Perkins, who is spearheading the Ready in 6 initiative.
"This is going to be a multi-year advocacy effort," Perkins said. "It’s going to be hard, but we've found that Delaware's secret sauce is when the business community is involved and supportive. But none of this will circumvent environmental laws or inhibit community input."
Joe Conaway, head of the Sussex Economic Development Action Committee, told DBT that history has already shown Delaware that the permitting process is an issue.
“Former Govs. George Truitt and Pete du Pont believed in one-stop shopping with an applicant for a permit,” he said. “Companies looking to come to Delaware or grow here need to know what they have to do and that they’ll get a quick response. That was back in the 1970s and here we are in 2019 talking about the same thing. If it doesn’t happen, I don’t see much hope for Delaware to be able to attract new businesses.”
Conaway added that the key is getting all of the chief decision-makers in the same room.
“Many of these policies are being implemented by third- or fourth-level bureaucrats who don’t have the same sense of urgency as their bosses,” he said. “There are some things [in the KPMG report] that I don’t agree with, but we all have to compromise. We have to look at the existing rules and regulations and ensure they do what they say they do, that the public is protected – that we’re not making it easier for businesses to come in and pollute – but that we don’t take too long to review something that’s already been approved.”
As an example, Conaway pointed to the Carney administration’s push to revise Coastal Zones to make redevelopment of brownfields in the sensitive zones easier. Although it passed the General Assembly and was signed by the governor, it took the Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control about two years to implement the changes.
Delaware Business Roundtable Chairman Rod Ward, who also serves as co-chair of the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, said that a favorable permitting environment, coupled with low taxes, a prime location and a high-quality workforce, would make it "significantly more likely that Delaware would be more competitive as we work to grow, retain and attract businesses to our state. These recommendations should serve as a roadmap for policymakers to develop a more predictable permitting process and a more competitive Delaware.”
Shelly Cecchett, executive director of the Greater Kent Committee, a nonprofit association of Kent County business executives who advocate for quality of life issues, said officials in her county have already started the planning.
“The Kent Economic Partnership and Greater Kent Committee have continued our discussions with Kent County Levy Court about the next steps to streamline the permitting process. We’ve already started this initiative earlier this year by Master Planning several areas and we are currently reviewing the results of the recent study to identify additional opportunities,” she told DBT. “We are eager to continue to work collaboratively. We all believe economic development is a critical focus in our community and know that together we can make changes that show those interested in growing their business that we can do more to streamline the process.”
Bryon Short, executive vice president of the Delaware Contractors Association, said the report is “an opportunity to partner with organizations and Delawareans who might not immediately see how important this work is to their lives.”
“For example, the increased propertytax resulting from the development and redevelopment of sites in our state is a critical aspect of how our schools receive much needed funding," Short said. "The focus on redevelopment opportunities is an issue I anticipate conservationists will be interested in examining. Making the changes that will improve Delaware’s competitiveness can be accomplished through smarter use of technology and data, better communication among public agencies and intelligent approaches to growth.”
Key recommendations of the KPMG report
The KPMG report recommends state and county leaders improve in three key areas to streamline the permitting process in Delaware: Enhance communication, increase efficiency and reduce paperwork, and track and use data more effectively.
Create a state project concierge to help streamline communication among state agencies.
Create a permitting action committee to assist with the implementation of permit improvements, made up of key state and county stakeholders.
Evaluate the integration of statewide information technology solutions to better integrate the permitting process between agencies and allow visibility to counties.
Implement permit-focused economic development training for state and county permit stakeholders.
Increase efficiency and reduce paperwork
Create a prioritization program for significant economic development projects to fast track approvals.
Streamline and strengthen the Department of Transportation’s review process to ensure all departments review and provide comments on construction plans during the initial review cycle, providing investors with predictability on issues and costs for proposed projects.
Implement Transportation Improvement Districts (TIDs) in areas experiencing or targeted for significant development to provide investors with greater visibility into the process and cost predictability.
Implement an initiative to prepackage approvals for targeted investment sites, reducing the permitting timeline as issues are known and solved prior to investors making project decisions.
Track and use data
State and county agencies should generate data that measures permit process timelines, allowing regulators to develop key performance indicators once historical data is available. Data currently is inconsistently collected by state and county agencies. By collecting and publishing metrics, it would drive increased transparency and accountability among permitting agencies.
Delaware needs to capture more and better economic development data to better understand new, missed and lost opportunities.