Economic development in Delaware ‘like kissing your sister’

Sam Waltz
Founding Publisher

Economic development in Delaware entering 2020 seems a lot like that old phrase – around since 1892 – “like kissing your sister.”

I won’t try to define the phrase – just Google it – but suffice it to say that it describes the results of a category of endeavor that exists, perfunctory, and not very robust, like a tie game in sports!

Even after nearly a half-century in Delaware, it’s hard for me to put my finger on the issue.

Delaware has so many great things going for it, among them:

  • Great human capital.
  • Great proximate access via highway, rail and water, plus air.
  • A comfortably small public policy environment.
  • A high-performing and even amiable business and professional community.

It also has capital.

So what’s the issue, or issues?

Decline in the quality of public education looms large, many critics say, and it seems to be getting worse, thanks to the apparent triumph of the teachers’ union over charter schools, effectively insulating parents in communities with lower-performing schools from the change they need. As a laboratory for improving public education is the reason charter schools were brought to Delaware in the first place 25-30 years ago.

Many dynamic business leaders looking for sites and communities have school-age children alongside a commitment to public education, and they seem not to find what they’re seeking in Delaware’s public schools.

However, in my mind, an issue just as big is the “what about me?” narcissism of the creeping populist left in Delaware, where a generation of Blue State governance has created entitlements for all, handing each of us a veto over development that leaves us feeling empowered to flex our muscles in antipathy and resentment to the detested money classes and their leverage of capital for business growth and personal gain.

Why exacerbate inequality by letting developers make more money? Critics storm!

Call me unusual, but my roots in public affairs and journalism make it enjoyable for me to frequently attend public hearings, almost for sport, like watching MLB’s Sunday evening baseball game of the week.

In the last year or so, I’ve gone out to the Brandywine Fire Company to watch Fairfax-area neighbors oppose Ernie DelleDonne in his efforts to bring back the old ICI / AstraZeneca campus into an economic contributor, and to A.I. du Pont High School to watch neighbors hang traffic congestion around Greg Pettinaro’s neck as an issue to stop the redevelopment of Barley Mill Plaza, as though poor traffic planning was his fault.

Thank goodness, both projects appear to have persevered through the neighborly punishment.

Landfills are “a necessary evil” – former Delaware Solid Waste Authority CEO N.C. Vasuki believed each community had a moral responsibility to take care of its own trash and not ship it to some gully in West Virginia – and Delaware has done a reasonable job in managing its solid waste, including landfills!

Yet neighbors – openly expressing resentment that Greenville and Hockessin housed no landfills, only blue-collar working-class neighborhoods – sought to end the usable life of a C&D (construction and demolition) debris landfill at Minquadale. And they appear to have succeeded.

Running amok is a NIMBY (Not in My Back Yard) mindset, occasionally aggravated by GOMBY (Get Out Of My Back Yard) extremists and even the occasional BANANA (Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anybody) wackos. And they have the ear, or ears, of government, even its obeisance.

As a county executive in northern Delaware, Tom Gordon did a lot of good in running New Castle County government.

In the law of unintended consequences, County Executive Gordon so empowered civic associations and their members that they’ve become effectively “a shadow government” in Delaware where only a few cliques of neighbors – albeit diverse groups – wield enormous influence to stymie the engines of economic growth that benefit many, many more of their fellow Delawareans.

Boldness in public and political vision and leadership is required to rein in this unchecked NIMBYism and, unfortunately for Delaware, that too often seems in short supply.


Sam Waltz was the founding publisher of the Delaware Business Times. 

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