Commentary: Sussex Economic Development Action Committee lays out latest goals
Before I report to the people of Sussex County on SEDAC’S activities in 2018, I would like to take a moment to thank all those who emailed and/or phoned me supporting the last editorial on Affordable Housing and Economic Development. Your comments and support were greatly appreciated.
The Sussex Economic Development Action Committee picked up its pace in 2018. This year we undertook a program with the Sussex school districts to help the schools add to their understanding as to what employers look for in a high school graduate. We believe that not every young person needs to go on to college, but that they should be ready to take those jobs in Sussex that provide a decent living, and a salary that allows one to buy a home and support a family.
Toward that end, we brought three groups that provide jobs in our county together with the Sussex school districts (all but Laurel participated in this program). Representatives of the school districts met with representatives of the water, electric and building trades to gain a better understanding of what an employer looks for in a high school graduate. These discussions will continue this coming year, hopefully with the school career counselors to better equip them to help a student make a lifetime decision. Benefits and salaries in these industries can lead to full and rewarding careers.
School- to-business training is a must in today’s world.
Our 2018 editorials focused on our Annual Report 2017, the Gateway to Success programs that presently exist in our high schools, the new direction SEDAC has taken to expand our membership and to become more aggressive in supporting economic development projects throughout Sussex County, including participating in public hearings to support and endorse these opportunities, and finally a compliment to the county council for adopting an economic development program in the 2018 comprehensive land-use plan whose goals, objectives and strategies meet 93 percent of the goals, objectives and strategies as recommended by SEDAC.
Included in this last article were two recommendations as to how the affordable housing problem in this county can be solved, and how to provide shovel-ready job sites in central and western Sussex County that would be paid for by growth itself. Both recommendations do not call for tax or fee increases, but would be created from existing revenue sources to help pay for solutions to both of these challenges.
A project we endorsed over five years ago finally began to provide a financial return to our county, with oysters now being harvested and sold in Delaware. This was done in spite of the many roadblocks created by our friendly bureaucrats in DNREC.
We supported the re-introduction of Junior Achievement programs to Sussex County as this primarily New Castle County-based program is now set to launch new programs in the Woodbridge School District, the district recommended by SEDAC for the new beginning.
We supported Senate Bill 50 that would give Delaware Technical Community College the same right to assess a property tax as presently held by the vocational school districts in Delaware. This very small tax would enable the college to access vitally needed funds to repair its buildings and add the training programs that would provide our people with job-ready skills to handle the jobs that need to come to Sussex County.
In March 2018, member Bob Wheatley and I traveled to Wilmington to meet with officials of the Zip Code Wilmington program in an effort to see how SEDAC could bring this very successful coding training program to Sussex County. Graduates of this program are guaranteed jobs in Delaware with an average starting salary of $70,000.
Lots of obstacles, not least of which is funding, make SEDAC’S efforts to bring it to Sussex County very difficult. However, toward that end, we have had preliminary discussions with Delaware Technical Community College. Stay tuned!
SEDAC continued to sponsor the Sussex County Open for Business monthly seminars. These seminars are coordinated by member Scott Thomas, and are designed to support the creation and development of small businesses in our county. Read more about this program elsewhere in our Annual Report, which you can find online at www.sedac.de.org.
SEDAC continues to endorse programs that support economic development in Sussex County including the Sussex County Today and Tomorrow Conference, the Delmarva Development Center, funding for the multi-language preschool Primeros Pasos and the Overbrook Shopping Center that would have brought hundreds of jobs to Sussex and expanded shopping experiences in Sussex County, thus avoiding unnecessary trips for Sussex Countians to Dover or Salisbury.
I had the privilege of being part of and addressing the Delaware State Chamber’s New Direction Forum held in Rehoboth Beach. We discussed the role of SEDAC in economic development in Sussex County.
I would be very remiss if I didn’t thank member and Secretary Linda Price for all of her efforts on behalf of SEDAC, from scheduling our monthly meetings to preparing our Annual Report and keeping our minutes precise and to the point. Without all of her efforts, I am not sure just where SEDAC would be.
Apparently Gov. John Carney reads these editorials and agrees with our position as well as the many Sussex Countians who also agree that an infrastructure fund for Delaware is needed. He has proposed a modest beginning for a Delaware Infrastructure Fund in his Fiscal 2020 Budget. Maybe other governments will see the merits of such a fund.
In closing, I want to quote an article that I wrote as the Sussex County administrator, way back in 1983, when it first appeared in the Seaford Leader. “As Sussex County grows, as it will, our traditions and heritage will come under pressure from those who settle here. We must make every effort possible to preserve our traditions, of which we are very proud, while at the same time developing new traditions in cooperation with the new Sussex Countians.”
Joe Conaway is chairperson of the Sussex Economic Development Action Committee.