2015 Delaware business outlook

Sam Waltz

Few professions have a worse reputation than economics and their practitioners, economists—OK, maybe PR people, developers and planners, but not many others!

It was Victorian historian Thomas Carlyle who, in 1849, first referred to that field of endeavor as a “dismal science,” a reference said to be in part to Malthusian theory of population-growth-caused famines and death.

And, of course, economists have found themselves the butts of more jokes than almost any other profession, except perhaps attorneys. “If you took all the economists in the world and laid them end-to-end, they still would not reach a conclusion” is one of my favorites.

Having said that, I’ve always counted economists among my friends, several of whom have been top global economists working for DuPont, and I have valued and respected their insights.

My own Vietnam-era military service was in the U.S. Army Counterintelligence, itself the butt of many jokes, but an essential field that works to define the self-interests of prospectively antagonistic parties, their capabilities, and their intentions. My master’s thesis was about intelligence gathering.

Whether in economics, intelligence, journalism or business, though, knowing what is likely to come tomorrow, next month or this coming year is an important part of success. Nothing demands prescience, but rather simply enough rich insight to make informed decisions.

That’s why for this 2015 inaugural issue, the team at the Delaware Business Times sought out one of its favorite economists, Dr. John Stapleford, formerly of the University of Delaware and his own consulting firm, now head of the Caesar Rodney Institute.

And that’s why we turned to 15-20 of Delaware’s business leaders and association execs—to invite insights from them. About a dozen of them took us up on submitting their own forward-looking views by Christmas Eve. It was a gift to us that, in turn, becomes a gift to our readers.

In The Tempest by William Shakespeare, Act 2, Scene 1, the character of Antonio utters the phrase, “what’s past is prologue.” Not only is that quotation engraved on the National Archives Building in Washington, D.C., but it was also U.S. Sen. Joe Biden’s response in the 2008 vice-presidential debate when Sarah Palin accused him of focusing too much on the past.

Executive Editor Mike Mika and I have pored over those columns, and we think you’ll be in for a treat. You’ll find that the rich perspective and contextual insight is necessary to deliver business forecasts. You’ll even find some hard news, e.g., that labor may set its sights in 2015 on organizing nurses at Christiana Care and banking workers inside some of the big credit card banks.

Any business or nonprofit or government organization exists in both a macroeconomic and a microeconomic environment. Obviously, it’s hard even for the best to swim upstream against a historic recession of the ilk that got underway in 2007 and stormed into view in 2008.

Recovery has been spotty, meaning highly variable, and its social features have led to the much-reported gutting of America’s “middle class,” where new research shows that all-time wage strength peaked in real dollars around 1979.

But microeconomies can survive, and even thrive, through a unique set of forces of their own making—see Silicon Valley; Austin, Texas; Manhattan and others. Delaware has a lot of knobs and buttons it can push to “tweak” its own business climate, but whether it has the energy and political will to make that happen remains to be seen.

Elsewhere in this issue, you’ll see that our editorial is a shopping list for the governor and the 2015 Delaware General Assembly. If they take on those issues, Delaware may prosper beyond its aspirations. Otherwise, well …

Enjoy the business forecasts.

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