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Last updated Friday, October 17, 2014

 
 

County government apparently is ready to embark on a major effort to reposition itself as business-friendly in an effort to spur job-producing economic development. That is a key recommendation resulting from a year-long study by two nationally recognized consulting firms commissioned by the Gordon administration. Officials of Wadley-Donovan Growth Tech and Garnet Consulting Services presented a detailed 84-page report to County Council during an executive committee meeting on Oct. 14.  It drew a generally favorable reaction.

A week earlier Eileen Fogarty, general manager of the Department of Land Use, told Council's land use committee that a series of proposals, in the form of ordinances, will be forthcoming from the department during the next few months "to incentivize desired economic development while managing change in ways which add value to the community."

One of the specific steps in her report got underway at Council's bi-weekly business session on Oct. 14 with the introduction of an ordinance sponsored by Penrose Hollins to replace so-called 'workforce housing' provisions in the Unified Development Code with a 'Traditional Neighborhood Housing Program'. All residential rezonings involving 25 or more dwelling units would be required to include a proportional amount of "moderate price housing" in the development. Developers would have the option of voluntarily agreeing to include such housing in projects -- regardless of size and whether or not rezoning is needed -- in return for being allowed to build at great density in the number of units proportionate to size of the property.

Mark Waterhouse, president of Garnet Consulting, told the executive committee that the county should expect a cost to be associated with positioning itself "as a product in the economic development market" as it seeks to attract businesses from throughout the region and beyond to locate or relocate to New Castle County. "You have enough plans. [You] don't need another plan. You need to do stuff," he said.

The report lists seven 'target industries' on which the county's development effort should focus: Advanced materials; information technology; aerospace and defense; health care and life sciences; business, insurance and financial services; agriculture; and Port of Wilmington-related operations. The report called for diversifying the county's economic base instead of following past practice of concentrating on specific sectors -- historically chemicals and banking.

The report was presented as a companion piece to similar studies and recommendations for Wilmington and Newark and intergovernmental cooperation was urged. So was cooperation with state agencies and, in particular Delaware Department of Transportation which has a major role in land use decisions.

Both the consultants and Fogarty identified streamlining the land use approval process which is said to take up to four years for even relatively simple proposals.

Bill Frederick, of Wadley-Donovan, noted that a third of the 263,000 jobs currently located in the county are held by people who commute from adjacent Pennsylvania, Maryland and New Jersey -- who, of course, do not pay county or school district property tax. He attributed a significant part of that to a perception that traditional public schools are of poorer quality than their counterparts on Delaware and Chester Counties, Pennsylvania. Oddly, neither he nor the report referenced amount the county's assets the existence of charter and non-public schools considered of at least sufficient quality to attract more than a quarter of total elementary and secondary enrollment.

The report also said "perceived crime and [public] safety issues impede recruiting [businesses] from outside the area. Heavily emphasized were steps toward image-building and working with organization in the private sector to increase New Castle County’s name recognition.

 
 

All content, unless otherwise noted, by Jim Parks

 

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