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Cape Region entrepreneurs talk with Carney

Part of governor’s statewide round-table business discussion tour
Local businessman Alex Pires, Gov. John Carney and Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth, listen to other members of a recent round table discussion. CHRIS FLOOD PHOTO
September 22, 2017

Story Location:
18385 Coastal Highway
Lewes  Delaware  19958
United States

Overzealous enforcement of rules governing electrical contractors, vo-tech school deficiencies, permitting delays at DelDOT and Route 1 traffic were among the concerns Cape Region business owners took to Gov. John Carney during a recent small business roundtable discussion at Bethany Blues near Lewes.

Hosted by Speaker of the House Rep. Pete Schwartzkopf, D-Rehoboth, the governor was in town Sept. 19 as part of his small business roundtable jobs and economy tour, a statewide effort to engage and discuss small business owners’ concerns.

In Sussex, said Carney, quality of life, the ocean and tourism are all things that need to be carefully watched without turning people away.

Getting right into the details, Chris Schell, of Schell Brothers, said the biggest issue his company is facing is the recent enforcement of rules governing electricians. He said a certain number of journeymen are now required to be on site for residential construction, when historically, he said, journeymen-level electricians, a title earned after years of schooling, have only been needed for commercial.

Schell said the enforcement of these rules has significantly reduced the electrician workforce, delayed start time by more than six months, and caused a backlog of settlements and closings on the back end. He said all the local schools teaching electrical work are full because they’ve been inundated with electricians looking to complete schooling.

The banks like the problem because they see the backlog, but it’s not good for business, Schell said.

Preston Schell, Chris’ brother and owner of Ocean Atlantic Realty, said there’s a trickle-down effect associated with the electrician issue. Plumbers, painters and drywallers are all having to lay people off because of the slowdown in finishing houses.

“There’s a dramatic effect,” he said.

Carney said the 5-year-old law was probably created for commercial construction, but is now also being enforced at the residential level. Both he and Schwartzkopf said there was probably a solution.

“It could just be a simple change in the law,” said Schwartzkopf. “We’re in the beginning stages of looking. It is critical, and I’m very concerned.”

That discussion quickly moved into what the state’s three vo-tech schools were doing to prepare future tradesmen and tradeswomen.

Carney was blunt. He said the schools weren’t doing enough. The vo-techs have changed their mission, he said, and they need to be refocused, adding that he didn’t see why there couldn’t be one statewide district for all the vo-techs, instead of a countywide district for each.

Butch Emmert of Emmert Auction Associates said the problem is that parents and students don’t perceive the trades as a respectable way to make a living. There needs to be a public campaign to teach kids and parents, he said.

Changing the subject, Alex Pires, representing Highway One and Community Bank, said the approval process with the Delaware Department of Transportation is a tedious and time-consuming process. The 90-day review process never seems to end, he said, then describing a dialogue with DelDOT engineers that’s gone back and forth four or five times.

Carney agreed with Pires. He said DelDOT Secretary Jennifer Cohan is aware of the issue and is working on a new approval process that will require the state’s engineers to step up. He said it will also require engineers hired by companies to provide better plans.

Carney said, because of its size, one of Delaware’s strengths has to be its ability to turn things around efficiently and correctly.

Steve Montgomery, representing the Starboard and Bethany Blues, said he has trouble finding good kitchen help, which leads to different restaurants fighting over the same cooks.

He did praise the Cape Henlopen High School’s new culinary arts program. He said there were six students working in the Bethany Blues kitchen from that program. He said he went on a tour and was blown away.

“I was embarrassed with how much more these kids knew about running a restaurant than I did,” he said. “Not surprised, but embarrassed.”

Carney closed the discussion with a topic he said he hesitated to bring up – Route 1 traffic.

“It’s a pretty big irritant,” he said, garnering a that’s-the-truth head shake from everyone in the room.

Emmert said it’s a huge problem.

“It’s a productivity issue,” he said. “It used to take 15 minutes to get somewhere; now it takes 45.”

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