As the founder of StratFI, a Delaware-based investment management firm, Jim Lee knows the ups and downs of the local and national economy. But as a professional futurist, Lee also keeps an eye on things like technology and the social life of cities. We talked to Lee about the future of Wilmington and small cities across Delaware.
Which technological changes do you think will have the most immediate impact on cities in Delaware?
Delaware has the potential to become a fintech powerhouse. What is fintech? These are the operations behind credit ratings, transactions settlements, online banking and trading, and wealth management. We have some heavy hitters in this area, including Capital One, Blackrock and JPMorgan Chase.
What role can the Delaware business community play in the future of Delaware cities?
I’ve always felt that the city of Wilmington has good bones, but still needs a little more soul. How does it go from a city that lives from 9-5 to 24/7? It starts with getting people to stay after work to liking the experience and making it their own. There are 1,000 apartments being built right now in the downtown area. These new residences are going to need a lot of support from local business.
As a state dominated by financial services and a handful of large corporations, how does that limit Delaware? Does it present any unique opportunities?
In the past, the state has “swung for the fences” to attract big companies. Now, we realize the need to “grow our own.” One gap in our start-up ecosystem is the availability of early-stage funding. So there is a great opportunity here for organizations like Delaware Founders Initiative and SmartInvest.
For most places, start-up investors come from successful start-ups themselves. That gives them the capital and the experience to help out the next generation. We need to figure out how to assist our first generation of start-ups.
Outside of Wilmington, what does Delaware’s urban future look like?
There is a growing demand for walkable, livable communities with a high quality of life. It is becoming increasing desirable to work, shop and live in the same place. And there are locations like Newark, Rehoboth, Milford, Lewes and Middletown where this is possible.
Delaware is one of those amazing places where everything is just so darn convenient. Everything you need is within a 20-minute drive or less. And, it is almost impossible to get a speeding ticket, because if you are speeding, you’ve probably already left the state.
Name a particular town or area of the state which you feel holds particular promise.
In terms of building activity and property prices, we are seeing the fastest economic growth in Middletown.
Personally, I really love the Wilmington Riverfront. It manages to be natural yet vibrant.