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Delaware’s business climate must regain its allure

The following op-ed appeared in the Delaware Business Times:

This summer, the State Chamber of Commerce endorsed the Delaware Business Roundtable’s Growth Agenda, a forward-looking document designed to drive the state’s economic development conversation as we elect new leaders and prepare for the coming legislative session.

At the center of the Growth Agenda is a clear strategic goal: Delaware must enhance its business climate if it is to remain competitive for jobs, investment and talent.

That may seem counterintuitive because Delaware has long been known for being in the business of doing business. Many business leaders and policymakers, however, fear the state is quickly losing its reputation as a desirable place to do business. Those interviewed in developing the Growth Agenda cite the perception of an increasingly unfriendly business climate as the most common concern.

Right or wrong, this perception not only harms the state’s lucrative incorporation services industry, it affects Delaware’s ability to recruit new talent and compete for new investment, development, and job creation across all industries.

So what can be done?

The Delaware Growth Agenda calls on the state to implement long-term strategies and policies that make Delaware more attractive to businesses looking to relocate and workers deciding where to live and work. The recommendations include:

  • Ensuring that Delaware’s infrastructure meets the needs of a 21st Century economy. This includes identifying the most cost-effective and profitable ways to expand infrastructure at the Port of Wilmington, exploring options to modify the Coastal Zone Act that would ease restrictions on redevelopment along the Delaware River, and extending high-speed Internet access to underserved communities.

  • Improving the state’s public education system by implementing the strategic recommendations contained in the “Student Success 2025” report published by the Vision Coalition of Delaware. The strategies designed to link education, workforce, and community resources are particularly significant to building a direct connection between private employers and public education.

  • Taking a leadership role in helping to facilitate more efficient development and permitting processes at the local and county levels. The state should work with communities and counties to support, train and advance expedited permitting and zoning ordinances.

  • Creating a Futures Council of Delaware. This private sector forum would engage in a non-partisan dialogue about the long-term economic competitiveness of the state.

  • Enhancing Delaware’s quality of place by providing the places and amenities sought by businesses and talent. Quality of place amenities (diverse housing, parks and recreational space) should be linked to places of employment to make the state more attractive to businesses and workers.

  • Ensuring that the apportionment structure of the Delaware Corporate Income Tax (CIT) is competitive with other states. This will ensure Delaware businesses are not unfairly burdened by being based here.

Taken together, these six proposals would significantly enhance Delaware’s business climate by producing a more predictable tax and regulatory environment, a better working environment for employees, and a more cohesive and strategic approach to business development. In addition, government and business leaders also must work together to focus on immediate challenges such as a structural budget challenge as a result of a revenue portfolio that is not responsive to the economy and unsustainable state spending.

Equally important, these recommendations focus on the challenges of our largest metropolitan city, particularly in the areas of safety, downtown growth and long-term viability for some of state’s biggest employers. We believe any efforts in this regard must be undertaken by a strategic partnership led by the mayor and business and community leaders.

The Delaware State Chamber of Commerce looks forward to working with the new administration and legislature to ensure Delaware’s business remains business for generations to come.

Chip Rossi is Delaware Market President, Bank of America and Chairman of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce.

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