County launches push for
The Clark administration unveiled an ambitious economic
development plan intended, officials said, to speed up recovery
of the local economy from the so-called Great Recession and to
stimulate creation of jobs in the county.
In a highly unusual appearance before a County Council
committee, County Executive Paul Clark said he could not
"guarantee that we will nurture a bumper crop of jobs." But, he
added, "even if a few of these [measures] hit good soil and take
root that means some of our citizens will get jobs."
Drawing on his background as a horticulturalist he has labeled
the nine-part plan 'Sowing Seeds, Growing Jobs'.
With a coterie of representatives from the business and
development communities present for the finance committee
meeting on Feb. 14, Clark urged Council members to take quick
action to make the county "fertile ground where jobs can
The plan, which obviously had been quietly vetted in those
circles, received immediate endorsement from New Castle County
Chamber of Commerce, the pro-development Committee of 100,
Delaware Building & Construction Trades Council and Delaware
Economic Development Office. Those groups and others have
previously branded county government unfriendly to business and
Council members also appeared supportive of the plan. They will
receive an ordinance to implement a partial property tax
exemption for new construction related to commercial or
industrial expansion at Council's Feb. 21 plenary session and
possibly act on it on Mar.6.
In addition to the rebate, new and expanding businesses are to
receive expedited processing of land use applications. In his
presentation before the committee Karl Kalbacher, the county's
director of economic development, said that will not lessen the
public's ability to comment on specific proposals as they go
through the land-use approval process.
Clark has already hired Terry Reilly to serve as a small
business advocate. A press statement issued concurrently by
Clark's office said Reilly fills a vacant executive assistant
position in the executive office.
Other parts of the plan:
● Creation of an "economic development strategy" to promote
growth of the Port of Wilmington and New Castle County Airport
and to attract businesses to the area along New Castle Avenue
and Du Pont Highway between Wilmington and the State Road
intersection southwest of New Castle.
● Provide contributory grants to nonprofit organizations,
community groups and municipalities to help finance economic
development projects and initiatives.
● Leverage money received through the federal Neighborhood
Stabilization Program to acquire and rehabilitate residential
properties in "neighborhoods hit hardest by foreclosures."
● Provide reduced-interest financing to businesses and nonprofit
organizations through federally supported qualified energy
● Expand the existing 'Buy From Your Neighbor' program to
include other than farm products originating in the county.
● Increase and speed up capital projects involving sewers,
libraries and parks to provide construction and related jobs.
Kalbacher told the finance committee that the rate of recovery
of the Delaware economy ranks with states in the second lowest
of seven levels. All of the surrounding states have higher
rates. Specifically, he said, retail-space vacancies near 11%
are at a 20-year high and 21% office vacancies are almost twice
the national average. Sheriff sales in 2011 were 20% higher than
in the previous year and more businesses closed in Delaware in
2010, the latest year for which data is available, than opened.
The tax exemption would apply to the increase in county property
tax as a result of additional assessed value attributed to new
commercial or industrial construction valued at $50,000 or more.
Available after July 1 and during the following five fiscal
years, the exemption would last for three years from the
effective date of the higher assessment. County government
already participates in a more liberal exemption available for
expansion in Wilmington and Newark also provides an exemption.
Kalbacher said state law limits an exemption to just the county
tax portion of the total property-tax bill. That is considerably
lessthan the tax levied by school districts.
The fiscal note on the draft legislation distributed at the
committee meeting puts the five-year cost of the exemption at
$1,850,0000 but the county would expect to receive $2.7 million
in permit charges and fees as well as revenue from any property
transfer tax generated by economic development.
Kalbacher said the county has received grants totaling $53,400
toward the $93,400 cost of the consultant work to create the
"economic development strategy" for the corridor defined by U.S.
Route 13 and Delaware 9.
Initially $50,000 would be made available for community economic
development grants. That, he said, would likely provide for two
or three awards determined on a competitive basis and requiring
recipients to put up matching funds.
"This is a really good-looking program," fiscally conservative
Council President Tom Kovach said. Eventually, he added, "it's
going to pay for itself" through additional revenue generated by
economic expansion. "If businesses was coming in on its own, we
wouldn't need these incentives," he added.
"We can't promise any specific number of jobs" to be created by
the plan, Kalbacher said. "We're going to throw a lot of
creative programs at the problem and hope they stick."