As governor, I spend significant time talking to employers about investing in Delaware because jobs continue to be my top priority. Without private investment and job creation, other things we care about – improving education, protecting our environment, enhancing public safety and delivering quality health care – are not possible.
Businesses have many choices as to where they create jobs and economic opportunity. A welcoming attitude from state and local officials matters, and businesses value a strong workforce, quality schools and a good quality of life – all of which Delaware has and is improving on. And businesses want to know that if they play by the rules, they will have a chance to grow. That is where some conversations around the state right now risk costing us jobs.
A company looking to locate or expand in Delaware wants relative certainty that if it complies with laws governing land use, the environment and the marketplace, it will be allowed to invest and succeed.
What elected officials do and say has an impact on these decision makers. When asked at a recent town hall meeting how we can attract more middle-class jobs, I said the first thing we need to do is “stop saying no” when employers want to invest millions of dollars in our state. The exchange came in the context of the Newark data center proposal, but it applies to other contexts as well.
Many were concerned when activists raised unprecedented legal arguments that threatened to shut down some existing operations of the Delaware City Refinery, which employs hundreds of well-paid workers. Another example is when some residents argued against the creation of 700 jobs and a $100 million investment at a closed pickle plant in Millsboro. If projects like these in existing industrial sites meet the zoning and environmental regulations placed on them by the federal, state and local governments, they deserve support.
This is not a partisan issue. It is a Delaware issue when any elected official, including one in my own party, seems to forget that creating good jobs is Job One. That’s why it matters when Rep. John Kowalko suggests that some of his constituents opposed to the data center want jobs, just not these jobs near their neighborhood. But if we want to avoid turning more farms into industrial tracts, it is sites like this, where almost 7 million vehicles were built, that need to continue to be economic catalysts in our communities.
Of course, there are air, water, safety and noise requirements that all manufacturers have to meet. The process to determine whether companies meet them should be rigorous and include public input. It should be based on facts, not rumors. And, in the end, if the project meets the standards we set, it should move forward.
This is the high bar that we set for manufacturers in this state, and there are a number of vacant sites where we want those manufacturers to create jobs. If companies are willing to comply with our laws, generate tax revenue and invest in our communities, we should welcome them.
It is not enough for us to wring our hands about the economy and talk about wanting to create jobs; we need to send the message consistently that Delaware is the right place to build and grow a business. Because if “somewhere else” is where we want to create jobs, that “somewhere else” just might be Maryland or Mexico.
I am the first to say our economy is not where we want it to be and that we need to continue to focus on job growth. That includes supporting small business and entrepreneurship, promoting blue-collar manufacturing jobs, helping employers be globally competitive, building on the strengths of our core industries, and creating an environment where businesses want to grow. But one thing I know for sure is that we will not be successful as a state if we cannot come together and say “yes” when good opportunities arise.
This opinion piece was first published in the News Journal.