Meet 13 cool companies in Delaware

By Kathy Canavan

Delaware is a place where everybody knows everybody. Or do we? Cool new companies are sprouting up all over the state, and some stalwart companies are reinventing themselves.

Let us introduce you to 13 of them:

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Marnie Homes

Employees in Delaware: 3, plus contractors

Marnie Homes of Bethany Beach, soon to star in its own DIY Network series, is a woman-owned construction company that specializes in custom homes that use at least 90 percent American-made products.

Owner Marnie Oursler, a fifth-generation builder with a Duke MBA, started her company in the midst of the recession in 2007.

Her emphasis on American-made and her community service led to her being selected as one of Professional Builder Magazine’s 40 Under 40 and as a spokesperson for 84 Lumber’s We Build American campaign.

Next fall, you’ll see her and her homes on a new 12-episode DIY series dubbed “Big Beach Builds.”

air-liquide-photo-for-coolestAir Liquide

Employees in Delaware: 207, including 88 research and development staffers

This French multinational produces gases that make cosmetics fluffier, concrete blocks stronger and medical procedures safer.

The company has nine research and development centers worldwide. The company operates in Newark, Newport and Delaware City.

Since 1902, Air Liquide’s business has been focused around oxygen, nitrogen and hydrogen. The 120 staffers at the company’s Delaware Research and Technology Center in Newark are working in bio-resources, electronics, membranes, oxy-combustion, process control, logistics, hydrogen energy and modeling.

promgirlProm Girl

Employees in Delaware: 60

Prom Girl is the place to go if your prom invitee or pageant girl spots the perfect gown in “Seventeen,” “ ‘Teen” or “Your Prom.” (Yes, that’s a magazine.)

Prom Girl, which boasts it’s the top-selling online prom store in the world, is based in Middletown and New York City. The execs are split between the two home bases, and the company has run its customer service and back office from Middletown since 2000.

The site sells sizes 0 to 3X at price points from $19 sale frocks to much pricier designer duds featured in prom mags.

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Decal Girl

Employees in Delaware: 17

Decal Girl makes artist-designed skins, sleeves and cases for phones, iPads and other electronics. Ryan and Amanda Peters started it all in 2003 when they designed an artsy decal to cover their plain Jane black Xbox.

Along the way, they offered personalized skins so customers can draw their own designs or wrap their phones with their fav photos.

Fast forward to 2016 and the Milton company has sold more than 6 million skins around the world.

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Bramble & Brine

Employees in Delaware: 17

Delaware is home to two of AAA’s four-diamond restaurants: The Green Room in Wilmington and Bramble & Brine in Rehoboth Beach.

Swordfish pastrami or foie torchon might be on the menu at Zagat-mentioned Bramble & Brine, nested inside a beach cottage on Rehoboth Avenue. From the dish presentation to the minimalist design, Bramble & Brine looks artist-designed. Because it is.

Owner Joseph Churchman was an art major who spent his summers working in restaurant kitchens.

After joining the kitchen at Philadelphia’s Le Virtu and Rehoboth’s Eden, he decided he liked that work better than artwork.

With items like chawanmushi, the Japanese custard, on his menu, the 30-year-old entrepreneur has made out-of-state publications like Zagat and Washingtonian sit down and take notice.

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Navient

Employees in Delaware: About 800

Delaware is home to two Fortune 500 companies: DuPont and Navient. That’s right. A second Fortune 500 company has been operating on Wilmington’s Riverfront since 2015.

Navient, nee Sallie Mae, services 12 million student loans.

A class action lawsuit looming from its shareholders created some bad headlines for the company last month, but Navient’s decision to locate its nationwide corporate headquarters on the Wilmington Riverfront has meant nothing but good news for the state.

Navient offers employees perks many other companies have dropped — perks such as up to $5,250 in tuition reimbursement each year and four hours of paid leave to volunteer each month.

When Navient’s Wilmington offices were established in 2015, showers were added to the restrooms to accommodate employees who run or bike to work — and those who take to the trails at nearby Russell W. Peterson Wildlife Refuge at lunchtime. Employees are invited on onsite fitness classes every Friday.

And, the Navient Foundation supports Delaware nonprofits.

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Middleford Deli

Employees in Delaware: 6

The Middleford Deli’s parking lot fills up with locals who know it for “good subs” and “good people,” as one customer put it.

The concrete-block deli with the fading hand-painted sign has been operating on a rural corner in unincorporated Middleford for 32 years. Less than three miles from busy U.S. 13 near Seaford, the deli is a welcome step back in time. When a supplier asks how to price a new deli meat, owner Nancy Drumbore says, “Whatever you think is fair.”

Drumbore supports all the local ball teams and social clubs and her regular customers’ favorite charities.

“We’ve know these people for years,” she said. “We’ve seen whole generations grow up.”

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Miller Metal Fabrication

Employees in Delaware: 80

If you see a charter bus drive by, odds are part of it was made at Miller Metal Fabrication in Bridgeville. Ditto for highway signs.

Since 1984, the company tucked alongside O.A. Newton on U.S. 13 in Bridgeville has been making metal parts for everything from autos to ovens.

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Food Bank of Delaware

Employees: 65, counting part-time and seasonal

Anyone would agree the Food Bank of Delaware does good work. It distributed 7.9 million pounds of food to people in need in 2015, and it trains unemployed people to fill jobs in the food industry. What few people know is the Food Bank is a cool company to work for, too.

The company cars are tie-dyed. All full-time employees pay zilch for their health insurance. On top of that, it’s a pet-friendly workplace so you can bring Fido to the office.

bright-spot-for-coolestBright Spot Ventures

Employees in Delaware: 8

Bright Spot Ventures’ tagline is: “How to succeed in business with no car, no diploma, no cash and no experience.”

The nonprofit company has a two-tier goal  — bring fresh produce to Wilmington’s food deserts and bring job training to young adults who have aged out of the foster care system.

The workers learn to grow vegetables. Then they learn to sell them. Bright Spot’s colorfully painted truck brings fresh food at fair prices to seven farmer’s markets a week.

Along the way, the employees pick up transferable skills such as reliability, work ethic and customer service.

And, West End Neighborhood House, the nonprofit that created the program, fills in as many blanks as it can for Bright Spot employees.

That includes housing for those who don’t have any.

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Mobile Cloud Video Game Party

Employees in Delaware: 1

Troy Boxton got an idea from his kids and went with it. He created a 55-foot-long video arcade on wheels.

The game theater on wheels features seven widescreen high-definition TVs, surround sound, five game systems, thousands of games and seating for 20.

Boxton said he wanted to give his children something from his childhood, but now he’s booking up for birthday parties, bar mitzvahs, weddings, corporate events and even dates at senior centers where video games are used to help older people retain their motor skills.

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Evans Farms

Employees in Delaware: 5 full time plus 55 seasonal

Kevin Evans, 37, and his wife Katey, 29, noticed older customers and young mothers with children were anxious about getting out of their cars when they pulled into their farm stand on Seashore Highway near Bridgeville. They came up with a giant red workaround.

On July 8, the Evanses opened Delaware’s first drive-thru produce stand, according to the Delaware Department of Agriculture. The large barnlike structure on the edge of their 2,500-acre farm includes a shop where customers can watch how farm-fresh fruits are turned into homemade ice cream.

Last year, the innovative couple debuted its Frozen Farmer line to turn unsold fruit into healthy treats, sorbets and homemade ice cream.  Most ingredients are local, and the pecans in the butter-pecan ice cream are roasted onsite.

The Evanses make use of the latest technology, whether they are printing their artist-designed watermelon labels or tweeting the real-time location of their Frozen Farmer food truck.

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Masley Enterprises

Employees: 30

American soldiers in Iraq rely on Masley’s flexible, flameproof, waterproof gloves to protect their hands under extreme conditions. The gloves are designed and sewn in Northeast Wilmington.

Masley Enterprises, which began in a basement in 2000, now operates in a restored 19th century mill on the Brandywine River. Owners Donna and Frank Masley positioned windows on the waterside so employees could enjoy the view as they work.

Masley is located in a HUB Zone — an area where the federal government offers special incentives to bring jobs to historically underutilized business zones.

Some of Masley’s 20-something and 30-something employees had never held a regular job before.

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