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Delaware Takes a Risk, Announces Shift

With former Gov. Ruth Ann Minner no longer in office, the state of Delaware is shifting its economic focus, due to an unemployment rate at a 25-year high and an estimated $431-million budget shortfall.

Newly elected Gov. Jack Markell and members of his economic team say they will focus on attracting and retaining smaller companies as they try to lift Delaware out of the economic doldrums.

Markell, a Democrat, has given jobs in his administration to several people with business experience, including Republican Alan Levin, the former CEO of the Happy Harry’s drugstore chain. Levin now runs the Delaware Economic Development Office.

Some Delaware business leaders are optimistic about Markell’s leadership. Bob Prybutok, president of Newark-based Polymer Technologies Inc., says a lot of small businesses felt the economic development office was working against them under former governor Ruth Ann Minner. Her administration worked aggressively to lure large, out-of-state businesses.

This economic development strategic shift is an interesting one, I think. The biggest headlines always seem to tout multi-million dollar corporate investments, a spice rack of incentives and abatements, and leases of hundreds of thousands of square footage. But in today’s recessed economy, how many of these gob smacking headings will we continue to see? Perhaps Delaware is astute in recognizing that collecting a net full of small fish may be a better game plan than waiting on a turbulent sea for the elusive catch of the day–particularly for states with smaller economies.

We’ll have to wait and see if Delaware’s new focus will prove fruitful, but I certainly have to respect the state’s courage to alter its course while drifting on dangerous waters.

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