Government plans vow changes for business

By Kathy Canavan

The City of Wilmington and New Castle County both released new economic development plans November 10. Both look at public schools and cumbersome regulatory requirements.

The county’s Economic Development Strategic Action Plan, posted on the county website, was characterized as a “road map” that lists goals such as “become nationally recognized as a place that continually seeks to maximize its economic development competitiveness.”

It does call for some time-specific actions the county will take to aid businesses.

According to the plan, businesses should expect to see quick movement in these areas that directly affect them:

  • The county and state Chambers of Commerce will contact state authorities by the end of December to urge them to develop a charter school plan.
  • The county will prepare public school marketing material by March that compares data to school districts in neighboring Pennsylvania counties. If favorable, post it on the new website. If unfavorable, urge school districts to correct deficiencies.
  • Beginning in 2015, study the feasibility of school redistricting and giving Wilmington a high school.
  • By the end of this quarter, the county promises a development review process, aggressive outreach to the development community regarding Unified Development Code changes and expansion of the existing county development groups.
  • By March, the county should have an electronic New Castle County Development News to inform developers about changes to regulations and procedures.
  • By the second quarter of 2015, a county economic development website should be created.
  • Establish and train a team. All those who come in contact with economic development efforts should be trained as a team beginning in the second quarter of 2015.
  • Offer an enhanced customer satisfaction survey for developers and the public to provide feedback on the development process by the third quarter of next year.
  • Evaluate the need for a county Economic Development Corporation to improve development services by June.
  • Establish a county economic development website by mid-2015.
  • Investigate the feasibility of a county project-procurement program by December 31.
  • Create directories of small-business services in English and Spanish by the end of the first quarter of 2015.
  • Develop financial options for new and expanding companies and a $100,000-per-year economic development closing fund by June 2015.
  • Develop a plan to enhance business incubators by mid-2015 and consider a new incubator venture by the third quarter.
  • Develop a Young Professional Attraction and Retention Program and a business retention program by June 2015.
  • Create an agriculture awareness program and produce a Local Farm Products Guide by the second quarter of 2015.
  • Support the development of a grain family and expand agricultural funding to help young farmers by the third quarter of 2015, and expand agri-tourism and consider farm preservation, cross-zone transfer of development rights and a farmer-training program by the end of 2015.
  • Prepare a business park feasibility study and possibly an assistance program by the end of 2016.
  • Create a county shovel-ready sites program by mid 2017 and notify owners.
  • Create a county business roundtable by March.
  • The city’s marketing-heavy plan includes a “general media image and information enhancement” section. It includes some action items that will affect how businesses:
  • The city will develop a career fair target to tech jobs by the third quarter of 2015, and urge the development of a job bank website.
  • The city will create and increase incentives for companies that locate in the city by the third quarter of 2015.
  • The city will ask the state or Chambers of Commerce to consider a second-chance program to provide training, placement and services for residents who need them by March 2016.
  • The city would investigate and encourage other groups to investigate alternative transportation systems by mid-2015.
  • Increase police presence in the city, particularly at night.
  • Maintain a commercial and industrial property inventory by the third quarter  of 2015.
  • In the second quarter of 2015, prepare specifications for a new city economic development website.
  • Create a utilities and telecommunications inventory, and also publish a Directory of Small Business Services by March 2015.
  • In the first quarter of 2015, teach city regulatory employees to think of themselves as customer service employees.
  • Enhance the city’s strategic fun for job creation by mid-2015.
  • Fund the city’s site improvement closing fund as a flexible capital fund by the third quarter of 2015.
  • Create a downtown enterprise district  with lower taxes and incentives by the  third quarter.
  • Encourage the development of an alternative newspaper that addresses millennials by the end of 2015.
  • Initiate a business retention program by mid-2015.
  • Install bike lanes beginning in the fourth quarter of 2015.
  • Plan increase business incubation in the city in the second and third quarters of 2015.
  • Identify and develop financing options by mid-2015 for companies moving to or expanding in the city.
  • Amend the city’s property tax abatement policy for vacant buildings by mid-2015.
  • Increase incentives for employers who hire unemployed city residents beginning in the third quarter of 2015.
  • Form a task force to streamline the city’s development and licensing process to make it more business-friendly by March 2015, with input from businesspeople.
  • The plan says the city’s non-charter public schools have a reputation for underperformance. It urges the county and state Chambers of Commerce lobby the state to develop a statewide charter school plan. The city, as the county, will prepare public school marketing material and post it on the city economic development website if the data is favorable. The plan calls for the chambers and public school districts to study the feasibility of school redistricting and possibly provide a high school for the city.
  • Work with Communities in Schools of Delaware in the first quarter of 2015 to expand the program to reduce the student dropout rate.
  • Implement ways to improve economic development service delivery by 2016’s end.
  • Establish a real estate development advisory committee by March, leading to a city real estate development plan by the end of the year.

Both plans include working with local colleges, especially for teaching prospective employees.

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