DOVER — Linda Parkowski is confident that Kent County has what it takes to compete with neighboring states — and the other two counties in Delaware — to attract prospective businesses and competitive-paying jobs.
Speaking at the virtual Central Delaware Economic Summit — aired from Delaware Technical Community College in Dover on Tuesday morning — Ms. Parkowski said all it takes is to look back at the past year or so, even under COVID-19 restrictions, to see the opportunities that have come central Delaware’s way in the form of new companies and others looking to expand.
The executive director of the Kent Economic Partnership Inc., Ms. Parkowski said the key has been streamlining the process — including vastly improving its website with key data — and letting companies know of financial incentives they can receive by opening a business in Kent County, as well as of other attractions, such as proximity to railroad service and key roads.
“We, in central Delaware, need to tell our story,” she said, “and we weren’t telling our story. I think that we just all need to have pride in Kent County and central Delaware as a great place to live. It’s a great place to work. It’s a great place to raise your children.
“And I think we just need people to know that we’re within three hours of anything that you’d want to see on the East Coast.”
Building boom continues in central Delaware
Individuals looking for signs of progress need look no further than the southeast quadrant of the POW-MIA Parkway in Dover.
That’s where workers and large equipment are busy building Delmarva Corrugated Packaging. The company is constructing what is described as an $80 million “super plant” — a 457,000-square-foot manufacturing facility expected to add 159 jobs when it opens around October.
“This is the big win,” Ms. Parkowski said. “We worked with Delaware Prosperity Partnership to bring this company in, and this company had very specific criteria.
“They needed to be in an opportunity zone and zoned industrial, and they needed rail access. And I can tell you for a fact, there aren’t that many industrial sites within central Delaware that meet that criteria,” she said.
“So they really were looking in southeast Pennsylvania, South Jersey and New Castle, … so we’re really fortunate that this company, hopefully, will open in October and have 150 good-paying jobs, and they’re going to have a (research and development) department in there, where they’re going to be working on recyclable boxes.”
Delmarva Corrugated Packaging is just the latest chapter in central Delaware’s developing story as a mid-Atlantic hub of manufacturing.
Another recent production location is the joint venture of Shoreline Vinyl Systems and Duratec, which purchased the former PPG paint plant and its surrounding 51 acres in Cheswold last year for $4.25 million. Maryland-based Shoreline is a PVC-fencing fabricator, and Utah-based Duratec focuses on PVC extrusion.
Another new addition to Dover is the 21,000-square-foot city post office at 350 S. Queen St., built by Delmarva Veteran Builders.
Avalon Industries Inc. and International Container Co. also purchased a $1.4 million building on 8 acres at 1196 S. Little Creek Road to relocate from Baltimore last year. The Dover Post will remain a tenant in that building, as well.
Avalon Industries makes bags, totes and cases for the Department of Defense, first responders, schools, cities, towns and youth leagues, while International Container makes disposable containers.
Another big site currently under construction just south of Smyrna is the headquarters of N.K.S. Distributors, Delaware’s largest alcohol supplier.
N.K.S., which is consolidating its headquarters in New Castle and its Milford warehouse to the new Smyrna facility, is expected to bring 140 jobs, including around 100 that are currently part of the distributor’s network.
The $30 million headquarters and 275,000-square-foot warehouse on Big Woods Road, adjacent to the Willis Chevrolet Buick, is expected to open in the spring.
Some businesses thriving, even in pandemic
Gov. John Carney appeared at Tuesday’s Central Delaware Economic Summit by recorded video and praised businesses in Delaware for how they have redefined themselves during the pandemic.
“Even though we’re gathering virtually again, I’m pleased to join you,” Gov. Carney said. “There’s no doubt Delaware’s business community has demonstrated incredible resilience throughout the past two years of this COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our focus has been on maintaining both a healthy community and a healthy economy — and it’s been a very difficult challenge. Businesses and nonprofit agencies have made significant sacrifices over the last year, some more than others, and have to protect their employees, customers and the larger community.”
Strangely enough, not every company has been negatively impacted by COVID-19.
Take Shore Industries, for example, which is currently in a lease agreement with property owner Kent County Levy Court at 26 Starlifter Ave. in the Kent County AeroPark.
Shore Industries’ Canvas, Outdoor Living and Enclosures businesses combined to make around $5 million in sales last year, as people looked to improve their homes during the pandemic.
The companies were previously based in Denton, Maryland, before beginning work in Kent County in March.
“When COVID hit, everybody wanted outdoor space. They needed a place to cover,” said Ms. Parkowski. “(Shore Industries was) located in Denton, and they’ve moved their employees over here. They’re looking to expand the building in the future and add more jobs.”
Ironically, COVID-19 might have also given the Kent County Economic Partnership — whose message is now “Choose Central Delaware” — a new way to get its message out to prospective businesses interested in starting out or relocating to the county.
“We completely rebuilt our website, and that has become extremely important. It’s one of the top 10 economic-development websites in the country,” Ms. Parkowski said. “My first year, I attended 12 trade shows in distribution, logistics, warehousing, senior housing, site selectors and some retail, commercial, and then, we worked to put some regional and national advertising out in the market, and nobody had heard of central Delaware. We weren’t getting our story out.
“Since COVID, most of the trade shows and conferences shut down. We switched our budget into regional, national advertising, and I can tell you that it has worked. And it’s in targeted publications that are site selectors to look at or (what) business owners would look at.”
She added that the future looks bright for central Delaware, as there are about 25 projects the area has in the queue.
Looking to the future
One of the keys to the future is securing a new 50-year joint-use agreement with the Department of Defense and Dover Air Force Base to use the base’s long runways and Civil Air Terminal for business in Kent County. The current 20-year agreement expires at the end of 2022.
Ms. Parkowski envisions that a longer-term agreement will make it easier for prospective businesses to invest in Kent County and that it should help spur major industry to the Kent County AeroPark, near the air base.
“We have an incredible asset with the Dover Air Force Base and the length of the runways, and I know people have been talking about this. We’re actually going to get this done,” said Ms. Parkowski. “Hopefully, you’ll see that whole area along Horsepond Road and near the Civil Air Terminal, transformed and open within the next 10 years.”
She knows it will take a lot of work and partnership with many entities, such as local governments, the Delaware Department of Transportation and others, but she wouldn’t expect anything different.
“I’m excited that we work together really well in central Delaware,” she said. “We collaborate. There isn’t a sense of, let’s outdo each other. There’s a sense of, how can we lift each other up and make each other better and make central Delaware a better place for people to live, work and play?”