In Bill Pfaff's first 100 days directing Sussex County's economic development, he has decided the county must take a proactive approach to boost business.
“After meeting with the towns as well as some elected officials, what I realized is that there is a huge opportunity for us to do better,” he said.
During a recent presentation to Sussex County Council, Pfaff introduced his pitch for a Sussex Economic Development Grid Initiative, which would split the county into zones and identify parcels available for light manufacturing and other similar businesses, starting on the western side of Sussex.
“It creates an opportunity for economic rejuvenation and job creation for communities within Sussex County,” he said. “The grid will be broken down in zones, whose purpose is to create jobs in the most economically stressed rural areas within the county.”
In mid-October, he met with representatives from 18 organizations and state departments, including the Department of Transportation, utility companies, county offices and several Sussex County towns to float the idea of an economic development grid.
“I heard towns say regulations are holding businesses up in terms of development,” he said, adding that he'd like to figure out how to fast-track approvals.
“The goal is to have household wages so people can live and work in their communities,” he said. The purpose is not to find spots for housing developments or standalone retail shops such as Wawa or Royal Farms, but rather sites that would suit light manufacturing operations.
Councilman Sam Wilson questioned how the initiative would impact the agricultural industry.
“Agriculture is No. 1 in this state,” he said. “It's No. 1 for this county. It brings in more money than any of this stuff put together. You realize that? And anytime you talk about developing something, you're doing away with farmland. There won't be any land left for farming.”
Council President Michael Vincent said that's another subject.
Pfaff said the point of the initiative is to identify parcels that are already zoned for business development. Everything would be done in coordination with the municipalities, he said, and he is in talks with an unidentified lender to partner with the county on the initiative.
“That's a work in progress,” Pfaff said. “This is truly a concept.”
Other economic development initiatives
In an hour-long presentation Oct. 10, Pfaff also outlined a few other economic development projects:
- Pfaff said the Delaware Prosperity Partnership, the public-private entity that has replaced the former Delaware Economic Development Office, plans to hire a representative for Sussex County. He did not specify what that person would be tasked with doing.
- Pfaff said the wheels are turning on the Delaware Coastal Business Park, a 175-acre industrial park near Georgetown that will bring nearly 50 jobs with its first tenant, Atlantis Industries Corp. Atlantis Industries works with plastics, doing mold and design and fabrication. They hold contracts with the federal government, Pfaff said.
- County employees are taking a closer look at the county's website and developing a management information system to better track online requests. If a person or business submits an inquiry or sends an email, all staff members can see what correspondence the person has had with county officials so everyone is on the same page.
- Pfaff said he'd also like to collect data from the website for proactive planning. If a business is looking at Sussex County and visits the website several times, he said, he wants to know the IP address and contact information of the company considering a move to Sussex.