Ready in 6 report recommends ways to drive faster permit approvals

An independent analysis of Delaware’s permitting process has found that what is currently a disadvantage in landing regional economic development prospects could be reversed through streamlined communication between state agencies, greater transparency and cost predictability, and a fast-track approval program for high-priority projects.

Delaware’s permitting process can take 24 months, placing it at a distinct disadvantage to Maryland, Pennsylvania, and at least three southern competitors, which can guarantee companies substantially faster permit approvals. Streamlining the process to a consistent six months or less could overcome Delaware having less money for incentives to lure companies to the state, said members of the Ready in 6 Coalition in response to the analysis by professional services firm KPMG.  More than 100 members of the Delaware Business Roundtable were briefed on the report at a Tuesday breakfast meeting at the Hotel du Pont.

Bob Perkins

Two of the Ready in 6 recommendations from KPMG that could have a big impact include reducing the permitting timeline through solving issues prior to investment in high-profile projects and creating a prioritization program to expedite approvals similar to New Castle County’s Jobs Now initiative, said Delaware Business Roundtable Executive Director Bob Perkins, who is spearheading the Ready in 6 initiative.

“This is going to be a multi-year advocacy effort,” Perkins said. “This is going to be hard, but we’ve found that Delaware’s secret sauce is when the business community is involved and supportive. But none of this will circumvent environmental laws or inhibit community input.”

Gov. John Carney said that his job is to enable other people to do their jobs better, and his role as it relates to this effort “is to make sure people embrace Ready in 6.” After the meeting, he said the first steps toward implementation are setting up a group to translate the survey into administrative action; coordinating between state, county, and local government; creating an entity to oversee the effort; and developing metrics driven by advice from site selectors who have visited the state over the past 12 months.

Delaware Business Roundtable Chairman Rod Ward, who also serves as co-chair of the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, said that a favorable permitting environment, coupled with low taxes, a prime location and a high-quality workforce, would make it “significantly more likely that Delaware would be more competitive as we work to grow, retain and attract businesses to our state. These recommendations should serve as a roadmap for policymakers to develop a more predictable permitting process and a more competitive Delaware.”

The Ready In 6 Coalition is comprised of the Delaware Business Roundtable, Delaware State Chamber of Commerce, Kent Economic Partnership, Greater Kent Committee, Sussex County Economic Development Action Team, ACEC Delaware, Committee of 100, Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce, New Castle County Chamber of Commerce, Delaware Contractors Association, Delaware Chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors, and Home Builders Association of Delaware.

“With significant competition between states for jobs, talent and investment, an efficient permit process is critical to demonstrate a favorable business climate and provide a predictable outcome for businesses seeking to locate or expand in Delaware. Because prospective businesses target locations which can achieve permitting in as few as six months, those states with longer permit timeframes experience reduced interest and missed economic development opportunities,” the KPMG report says.

Gregory Moore, an engineer who runs the Becker Morgan Group’s Dover office and is a board member of the Dover Economic Partnership, agreed that the effort will take time.

“It’s an onion with a lot of peel,” he said. “We’ve needed change for a long time and I think KPMG did a good job of being reasonable. There are multiple processes with lots of different agencies.”

KPMG’s Ready in 6 recommendations note that DelDOT’s jurisdiction of all the state’s roads “provides a unique challenge and opportunity for streamlining permitting processes.” At the same time, “there is a perceived difference in priorities between DelDOT leadership and front-line employees. DelDOT leadership has attempted to implement change and improve process; however, this does not always translate in interactions with the engineering and development community.”

The report recommends state and county leaders improve in three key areas to streamline the permitting process in Delaware: Enhance communication, increase efficiency and reduce paperwork, and track and use data more effectively.

Enhanced communication

  • Create a state project concierge to help streamline communication among state agencies. This office would coordinate efforts among agencies to identify opportunities to improve the process and performance of the permitting process.
  • Create a permitting action committee to assist with the implementation of permit improvements, made up of key state and county stakeholders.
  • Evaluate the integration of statewide information technology solutions to better integrate the permitting process between agencies and allow visibility to counties, improving communication among government agencies, counties and cities.
  • Implement permit-focused economic development training for state and county permit stakeholders. This is designed to educate stakeholders on processes and to help them work together seamlessly.

Increase efficiency and reduce paperwork

  • Create a prioritization program for significant economic development projects to fast track approvals.
  • Streamline and strengthen the Department of Transportation’s review process to ensure all departments review and provide comments on construction plans during the initial review cycle, providing investors with predictability on issues and costs for proposed projects.
  • Implement Transportation Improvement Districts (TIDs) in areas experiencing or targeted for significant development to provide investors with greater visibility into the process and cost predictability. The state should expand on existing TIDs and expedite permit review and approval in these districts.
  • Implement an initiative to prepackage approvals for targeted investment sites, reducing the permitting timeline as issues are known and solved prior to investors making project decisions.

Track and use data

  • State and county agencies should generate data that measures permit process timelines, allowing regulators to develop key performance indicators once historical data is available. Data currently is inconsistently collected by state and county agencies. By collecting and publishing metrics, it would drive increased transparency and accountability among permitting agencies.
  • Delaware needs to capture more and better economic development data to better understand new, missed and lost opportunities. Historical data needs to be generated to better understand out the state’s permitting process is impacting economic development.

Ward said that “taken together, these recommendations will provide efficiency, clarity, transparency and predictability to the permitting process in Delaware – all of which are crucial to helping the state attract and grow businesses.”

In his closing, Perkins pledged that the coalition would work to create a holistic view of the permitting process, noting that the effort is an efficiency play, with his group committed to building partnerships with various level governments; work with the governor to use his bully pulpit to encourage action, and knocking out the low-hanging fruit that slows down the process.

By Peter Osborne

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