June  18,  2008

Jobs-generating ordinance
receives board support

With a six-to-three vote, the Planning Board joined the Department of Land Use in recommending that County Council enact, after a few revisions, a pending ordinance granting significant relaxation of some provisions of the Unified Development Code to technology-oriented companies that come to unincorporated New Castle County as a result of expansion of the Army's Aberdeen (Md.) Proving Ground.

The department's recommendation cited the area's long-standing reputation as "a leader in the concentration of scientists and engineers" and said the measure would respond to economic-development objectives in the comprehensive plan by furthering creation of high-paying jobs.

Board chairman Victor Singer and members Sandra Anderson and June MacArtor stressed that their negative votes did not reflect disagreement with the concept of providing incentives for new businesses, but had to do with what they saw as shortcomings in the proposed legislation. "It's a fine idea, but it is not yet mature," Singer said.

Joseph Maloney, on the other hand, said he was not fully satisfied with the proposed ordinance, but supported it. "As far as I'm concerned this is a start. You have to start someplace," he said.

George Haggerty, the department's assistant general manager, said that objections raised during discussion at the board's meeting on June 17 could be dealt with by future amendments. He acknowledged that some valid points may have been overlooked during the drafting of the measure. "It was vetted mostly with the chambers [of commerce] and business folk," he said.

The proposed ordinance, which is being sponsored by councilmen Joseph Reda and Robert Weiner, came out of the county's one-man economic development office which worked with the land use department to draft it. The Planning Board was considering a not-yet-made-public second substitute to the original measure which contains changes to the introduced version.

The latest changes, which constitute conditions attached to the department and board's recommendation, would require companies seeking the concessions to submit, in addition to a business plan which reflects job creation, a 'diversity plan'. That presumably would spell out their intent to hire women and members of racial and ethnic minorities. The proposed ordinance's definition of what it refers to as "high-wage jobs" would be 10% higher than "current average per capita income."

Left-standing after the department considered points raised by board members at a recent public hearing was that income level -- about $50,000 a year -- and a formula for determining the amount of surety that a company would have to post based on 10% of its job-creation requirement. The department report said that it is "comfortable" with those provisions. "No further changes are necessary," it said.

As Delaforum previously reported, the only person to show up for the public hearing was Karl Kalbacher, the county's director of economic redevelopment. It is normal procedure for the department and board to take written comments apart from public testimony.

Maloney objected vigorously when MacArtor asked some questions at the meeting that had been raised by the League of Women Voters, of which she is a member. MacArtor replied that she was seeking information and not testifying to the merits of the proposed ordinance.

Companies seeking concessions to build a facility with more than 20,000 square feet of gross floor area would be required to guarantee at least 25 "high-wage jobs" within two years of its completion. Those who want to build a smaller facility would have to provide 10 or more jobs.

The proposed ordinance could be used by companies involved in research, product development and testing; those supporting the primary beneficiaries with engineering, legal, manufacturing or marketing services; related laboratories, educational facilities and clinical-research hospitals; and office and retail activity "accessory to the scientific research and technology development."

Code provisions subject to relaxation include density, parking requirements, traffic studies and buffers. Applications also would be given expedited review. Haggerty said proposals would have to comply with existing zoning of the sites, but the proposed ordinance exempts any required rezoning from having to wait on County Council's thrice-a-year rezoning schedule.

During discussion at the board meeting William McGlinchey pointed out that there is no provision in in the proposed ordinance which requires that the jobs be located in the structure that is built or, for that matter, specifies that they be based in New Castle County. He said that, while such is implied, it is conceivable that a company might take advantage of the concessions, which include among other things greater allowable density, to end up with "a more valuable piece of property" with no intention of bringing jobs here. "This is about [attracting] jobs, not companies," he said.

The proposed ordinance is not aimed at "encouraging companies to move their primary location to New Castle County, but to create jobs in New Castle County," Maloney said.

The principal objection raised during discussion was that the proposed ordinance appears to provide development incentives for companies relocating to the area while not offering the same advantages to local business that want to expand. Jobs that the outside companies bring with them would qualify as 'new' while expansion by locals would create jobs that did not previously exist.

As it now stands, the measure "does nothing for retaining business," Anderson said.

Kalbacher testified at the hearing and Haggerty acknowledged at the meeting that the proposed ordinance is "geared to new industry and new jobs" and not expansion of existing ones. The department report referred to New Castle County's getting its share of the "30,000 new direct and indirect employment" generated by the Aberdeen expansion. Aberdeen is referred to in the preamble of the measure, but not in its text.

Drawing on his pre-retirement experience working for Thiokol, a defense contractor, Singer said the proposed ordinance "talks about building long-term facilities for short-term contracts." Government contracts, he pointed out, typically do not extend beyond two years and some are for terms as short as nine months.

Haggerty acknowledged that businesses and use of their facilities change with time. The M.B.N.A. Bank complex at Ogletown "didn't last forever [and] the face of Du Pont [Co.] today is not the face of Du Pont 20 or 30 years ago," he said. Astra Zeneca "built much of what was proposed" when it received state incentives to locate its headquarters at Fairfax "but still has a few buildings to go."

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