Sussex County conference a ‘Sellebration’

By Christi MilliganSussexSellebration

Georgetown, Del. – A winning formula for drawing people to Sussex County is to tout its low taxes and high-quality services, according to Sussex County Administrator Todd Lawson.

Lawson was a panelist at the 21st Annual Sussex County Today & Tomorrow Conference, a large-draw event focused on identifying present and future needs of the state’s largest county. “Clearly, the county is in the business of selling, and we’re in the middle of that wheel. We’re the hub,” he said last month.

This year’s focus, “Sellebration,” featured industry leaders who offered first-hand advice for maximizing their products and cultivating ongoing relationships with customers.  “We need to tell everyone who asks that we’ve got a great thing in Sussex County,” he said.

Along with Lawson, the panel included Charlie Burton, a fifth-generation owner of the I.G. Burton auto dealerships in Milford and Seaford; leading real estate broker Pat Campbell-White; Patti Grimes, executive director of the Freeman Foundation, a nonprofit organization that presents theatrical performances; Dr. Andi Richter, owner of Savannah Animal Hospital, and Delmar School District Superintendent Dr. David C. Ring, Jr.

For Burton, marketing strategies and high principles drive his business, but people remain the focus. “My motto is, ‘Care about people,’” he said.

Campbell-White, who took her first real estate class at Delaware Tech in 1973, said that understanding how interdependent county businesses are is key.

She told the audience she’s counted 36 other people gainfully employed in part because of what she does, including surveyors, mortgage lenders, and title searchers. “Nothing happens until somebody sells something,” she said. “We’re promoting, educating and selling what it means to have a wonderful life in Sussex County.”

Her business philosophy hit on the key focus of the conference, which regularly draws giant crowds who have come to expect the valuable information, perspective and insights synonymous with the event.

“They’ve perfected the vision,” said Campbell-White.  “It’s a sold-out event every year because of the caliber of information that’s provided and the opportunities for people who go.”

According to Delaware Economic Development Office analyst Ed Simon, Sussex County job growth is increasing faster than the national average of
1.8 percent, climbing at 2.6 percent in 2014.  Unemployment trends show that unemployment rates have decreased since 2010 in Sussex County – from a high of 8 percent to 6.1 percent this year, just below the national average of 6.3 percent, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics.

It’s that Sussex County snapshot that Campbell-White said is an invaluable resource to area business leaders and entrepreneurs, many like herself who access the information through Delaware Tech’s website long after the event is over.

“The college is to be commended for putting the focus on things good and wonderful in Sussex County,” she added.  “We’re all out there as individuals, companies and entrepreneurs but we don’t look around and see opportunities to make our companies grow.”

Delaware Tech Vice President and Owens Campus Director Ileana Smith has lead the team that plans conference since its inception as part of her doctoral research more than 20 years ago.

Smith decided to combine her research on educational innovation and leadership into a conference that would provide business community with large-scale economic insights into Sussex County.

“We’re always figuring out a timely lens to look at our county through,” Smith said. “This year’s conference wasn’t simply about selling. It was Sussex County through the lens of selling. This is unique because ownership of the county does not belong to the college, it belongs to all of us.”

In the last two decades, conferences have highlighted entrepreneurship, technology, transportation and human resources, as well as industries like agriculture and manufacturing.

Breakout sessions featured leaders from various sales-driven local industries, including Dennis Forney of the Cape Gazette, who led a session on the benefits of print media; Felicia BenZakan of E Revolution Ventures, Inc., who highlighted internet sales, and Dave Speicher, general sales manager at WBOC-TV, who talked about face-to-face selling.

The keynote speaker was Scott Kammerer, president of Matt Haley Companies, who offered a poignant and off-the-cuff overview of the direction of his extensive business.  Matt Haley Companies oversee nearly 1,000 employees and $45 million in annual managed sales.

Smith and her team will take information from the conference and start to plan next year’s event.  The team is a well-oiled machine, she said, having learned much about the requisite details and strategies to produce a successful event.

“It’s a mix between Thanksgiving and a revival,” said Smith. “It’s about very good friends coming together to think and learn from each other.  There’s a unique culture about it.”

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