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University of Delaware announces layoffs, other measures as budget deficit grows

From Delaware Online

The University of Delaware said it is facing a budget deficit of about $250 million this year, as significant revenue loss and increased expenses from the COVID-19 pandemic strain the university’s finances.

On Thursday, the university announced another round of cost-saving measures that included layoffs, a voluntary retirement program and voluntary staff hour reductions.

There will also be unpaid leave and temporary reductions to retirement contributions.

Thursday’s round of cuts apply to university staff members only, not faculty members. UD administrators have begun talks with the faculty union. Those negotiations will be dependent on how many staff members choose to take the voluntary retirement or reduced hours, university spokesperson Andrea Boyle Tippett said.

Staff who choose the voluntary retirement option must notify the university by Oct. 5. The incentive payment would equal five months of base salary, plus payment for any unused vacation days.

“Given that we will have eliminated almost all discretionary expenses for this year, we have no choice but to turn to personnel actions,” Assanis said in a letter to faculty and staff on Thursday.

Campus departments are also being asked to scale back spending. Non-academic units are being asked to cut budgets by 25% to 35%, while academic units must cut by 15% in an effort to “preserve the academic core of the institution,” Boyle Tippett said.

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New project at former paint factory near Cheswold expected to bring 130 jobs

From Delaware Online

A 173,000-square-foot former paint manufacturing plant near Cheswold is seeing new life and new jobs thanks to a joint effort of the Kent Economic Partnership, the state and Kent County.

The building at 1886 Lynnbury Woods Road was purchased for $4.25 million, part of a total investment of $17.2 million to develop manufacturing and warehouse jobs at the site.

Nephi, Utah-based National Vinyl Products is an extruder of PVC fence and rail products sold across North America. This new state-of-the-art extrusion plant will employ 80 workers as equipment operators, quality control and plant/equipment maintenance personnel while allowing the company access to customers across the Eastern U.S.

USA Fulfillment Services, a Chestertown, Maryland-based logistics company, is leasing space at the building and will use it for warehousing. It will employ between 30 and 40 workers, bringing the total number of people working at the building to as many as 130.

Formerly occupied by PPG, the building has been vacant since 2019 when the company closed its paint factory there.

“This is a real win for Delaware and for Kent County,” Gov. John Carney said. “This brings back to the area many of what I call the ‘new old’ jobs that for years have helped Delaware families put food on the table, pay the mortgage and send their kids to college.”

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Stimulus checks, jobless benefits not reviving the hospitality sector

From Delaware Business Now

Recent releases from the office of the Delaware State Treasurer and the Delaware Department of Labor contain some eyepopping numbers.

So far, the combination of the stimulus checks and jobless benefits since the Covid-19 pandemic took hold in mid-March totals $1.7 billion or more than $1,700 for every man, woman, and child in the state.

The stimulus checks amount to a little less than half of the total, based on figures from the state Treasurer’s office. For any number of reasons, a sizable number of Delawareans still have not received the checks that amount to $2,400 for a couple,

The pandemic benefits included the Pandemic Assistance checks of $600 a week. Businesspeople complained the payment led many workers to stay on the sidelines after their establishments began to reopen.Others said the program boosted the economy at a critical time.

The Pandemic payments ended in late July and were recently replaced by a $300 a week Lost Wages payment that will last for a limited time with current funding.

We do know that unemployment checks typically go back into groceries and other necessities.

Stimulus checks have more of an indirect impact since many people who held on to their jobs banked the proceeds. That is good news when it comes to an abysmal savings rate in Delaware and elsewhere, but it may not do much to jump-start the economy

As a recent article in The Atlantic noted, many consumers have been squirreling away a lot of money this year or paying down their credit card balances.

The reason? The pandemic means many people are not traveling or frequenting restaurants, especially establishments with higher price points that attract an older and often more cautious clientele.

The spending slump is reflected in recent unemployment figures from the state Department of Labor. On Friday, the department reported an 8.9 percent jobless rate. (Many economists believe that rate is far higher).

The subdued spending has hammered the state’s travel-hospitality industry, a big recipient of travel and dining spending.

The Delaware jobless figures showed the hospitality sector accounting for nearly 14,000 of the more than 41,000 jobs that have been lost in 2020.

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As state steps up enforcement, businesses work to meet COVID-19 regulations

From Delaware State News

DOVER — After promising to step up enforcement in August and September to stem the spread of COVID-19, the Delaware Division of Public Health has issued a total of six administrative penalties and one short-term closure to businesses for noncompliance with regulations.

The most notable actions were taken against Rancho El 24 in Bridgeville and Mexican Folkloric Dance Society of New York in early September for a rodeo that drew about 1,500 people and did not require mask-wearing or social-distancing.

DPH spokeswoman Jen Brestel said the agency assessed a $21,000 administrative penalty due to “severe noncompliance of the Governor’s State of Emergency order” ($10,000 each for face covering and social distancing violations, $1,000 for failure to secure proper approval). The DPH did inform the event organizers that penalties issued by the agency may be reduced if actions were taken to assist any potential contact tracing efforts within seven days of receipt of the enforcement notice.

In Kent County, only one business has been fined for violations thus far.

The Green Stinger in Woodside was assessed a $1,000 administrative penalty ($500 per violation) for continued noncompliance of COVID-19 requirements, according to the DPH.

In Sussex County, there has been one smaller violation in addition to the incident at Rancho El 24.

Bethany Auto Parts and Marine Supplies in Ocean View was assessed a $100 administrative penalty for continued noncompliance of COVID-19 requirements, according to the DPH.

The other three administration penalties were issued in New Castle County, including the only closure.

Ms. Brestel said DPH inspectors observed multiple violations during an inspection at Mad Mac’s in Newark on Friday, Aug. 28. The establishment agreed to close to address the compliance issues and reopened the following day.

No fine was issued to Mad Mac’s, Ms. Brestel said, but repeat violations could result in closure, fines or other actions.

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Wilmington joins national program aimed at accelerating growth of young businesses

From Delaware Business Now

Wilmington Mayor Mike Purzycki and City Council President Hanifa Shabazz announced a partnership with the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation, and Wilmington Alliance to participate in the National League of Cities (NLC) City Innovation Ecosystems program.

The City Innovation Ecosystems program asks city leaders to commit one year to creating policies, programs, and practices to ensure their communities can thrive in the global economy. I

In the program’s inaugural year, 50 cities ranging from rural townships, to college towns, to major metros and linked with over 200 local partners to deploy over $100 million in regional and national resources to support young business, leverage technology, and expand STEM education for everyone.

Entrepreneurs come from every background and are growing businesses in every industry. While they all have the potential to succeed, many do not have access to the resources or support they need, a release stated.

Wilmington Alliance and the Pete du Pont Freedom Foundation will lead the project through the Equitable Entrepreneurial Ecosystem Wilmington (E3, Wilmington). E3 Wilmington’s mission is to build a citywide strategic coalition of partners designed to identify, vet, incubate and accelerate the launch of new businesses, with targeted focus on Black and Brown entrepreneurs.

Entrepreneurs will receive a comprehensive needs assessment and will receive a customized acceleration plan with coaching and guidance in business planning, marketing, and promotion, technology infrastructure as well as optimizing space planning (virtual offices, co-working space, or dedicated offices). Finally, when appropriate, the E3 ecosystem partners will help increase access to funding opportunities.

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Milford signs incentive deal for Wellness Village

From Delaware Business Times

MILFORD — With the long game in sight, the Milford City Council approved a short-term economic incentive deal with Nationwide Healthcare Services for its $30 million Milford Wellness Village and its anticipated 150 to 200 jobs.

The Milford Wellness Village aims to bring an array of health care, social services, physical therapy and childcare services within a campus setting to the former Milford Memorial Hospital. At the heart of it all is Polaris Healthcare & Rehabilitation Center, a 150-bed skilled nursing facility, which started accepting patients this year.

“The repurposing of this property has been a partnership with the city of Milford since inception and we are very encouraged by the city’s support. We look forward to welcoming many more businesses and partners to the Milford Wellness Village,” Nationwide Healthcare Services CEO Meir Gelley told Delaware Business Times.

Under the deal, the city entered into an electric agreement for set rates for the next five years as well as waiving water and sewer impact fees if renovation work is complete within three years. But if the COVID-19 pandemic delays that work, Milford officials could offer an extension.

In addition, Milford signed off on a 10-year real estate tax abatement. In exchange, Nationwide will withdraw its appeal on the assessed 2019 tax value of the property.

For the first two years, Nationwide will receive a tax break on the assessed value of the hospital building and not on any other ancillary properties included in the sale from Bayhealth to Nationwide last year. After the second year, the abatement rate will gradually drop each year based on the square feet of space occupied in the 266,000-square-foot facility by the previous year.

For example, if 100,000 square feet of the Milford Wellness Village is used by the end of the second year then the tax abatement would be 62.4% in the third year.

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A Better Delaware celebrates one year

A Better Delaware celebrates one year today!

A weakened economy, poor business climate, high tax rates, and questionable practices in state governance all lead to the decision to form an issue advocacy organization that would work for Delaware taxpayers and businesses. One year ago today, A Better Delaware was finally launched to the public to tackle these issues.

“Delaware needed to tackle these issues and since lawmakers and leadership in the state weren’t making the effort, Chris Kenny and Ben duPont did. Thanks to them, every day I get to wake up and work to make my home state a better place.” — Zoe Callaway, Executive Director

When we launched on September 17, 2019, we were ready to fight for you. The response we received after launch let us know that Delaware was ready too, and thankful for our presence and advocacy. You let us know that you too are tired of the over taxation and regulation, the back room deals in Dover, and being left behind by your elected officials.

Facebook recommendations and messages, emails, phone calls, and more started to come in that thanked us for what we were doing and encouraged us to keep on, so we did. We ramped it up with a weekly blog, A Better Discussion webinars, and professional videos addressing key issues in the state. Our public advocacy campaigns, where constituents had an outlet to speak out against bad legislation directly with their legislators, resulted in hundreds of emails sent during the 2020 Legislative Session.

“The Delaware Small Business Chamber is not a political chamber but we advocate for issues that affect the Small Business Community and we think A Better Delaware is helping to make Delaware a more small business friendly state. Congratulations on one year.” — Bob Older, Founder and President of the Delaware Small Business Chamber

That wasn’t enough for us. We came to fight for you, and that meant helping keep Dover business and taxpayer friendly. Last month, ABD formed a PAC to begin electioneering in order to expand our cause.

A Better Delaware has done a lot to advocate for you, but we could not have done it without you. Your support and willingness to share ABD and our message has really resonated and has allowed us to do everything that we have so far.

“For our inaugural year, we are very fortunate to have our Executive Director Zoe Callaway as the heart and soul of ABD working tirelessly everyday researching, writing, posting, calling and discussing the mission critical issues for all Delawareans.” — Chris Kenny, Founder and Co-Chairman

Almost 10,000 followers, over 13,000 email subscribers, and over a dozen distinct advocacy campaigns later, A Better Delaware celebrates one year of working with and for you.

What does the next year hold? We hope you’ll stick with us to find out! For now, we continue to work to improve the following statistics:

Delaware deserves better. Together, let’s make A Better Delaware.

Stop the Reverse Revolving Door

Texas limits two groups of people from running for public office: felons and the mentally incapacitated. In 2017, the state considered making an interesting addition to that list when a bill arose that would prevent lobbyists from being able to run for public office.

At first glance, it may seem excessive to group lobbyists with felons and people with mental handicaps, but the measure had great intentions and some precedent.

The precedent here comes from major concern with the “revolving door” of politics at state and federal levels. The revolving door is when legislators move into lobbying or similar state-related positions after retiring from office. Critics of this practice cite major concerns surrounding government accountability and trust in government.

Those at the end of their time in office who are eyeing a lobbying role are more likely to be influenced by the company or interests that the will shortly advocate for, leaving the public at a serious disadvantage. Once in these lucrative, private sector positions, former lawmakers have inside connections and relationships with those they will now stand in front of, on behalf of special interests.

Federal actions to prevent the revolving door have not been successful, and neither have similar measures in Delaware. When state senate leader Patty Blevins (D—Elsmere) lost her re-election in 2016, her new position with the Division of Public Health seemed to be in violation of state rules against revolving door type activities, included in the ethics portion of the Delaware Code.

So, when a lobbyist decides to run for office, these concerns remain. This process is known as the “reverse revolving door,” and is still a breach of trust in government and weakens government accountability.

A South Dakota lobbyist-turned-Congressman came under fire for adding language in a bill that helped his former employer. The same can be expected at the state level, and may be easier to prevent.

Delaware can either be more susceptible to this problem, or can do better to prevent it. In a state where everyone knows everyone, interests are bound to get tied up, but we do not have to blatantly allow for special interests to enter the legislative process and pass bills in favor of their friends or former employers. Delaware does however have the framework in a forgotten set of ethics guidelines that could be applied to and enforced with the reverse revolving door.

We already struggle with transparency and accountability in this state. We must do better.

Delaware should move to end the revolving door of politics and be an example to the nation. Until then, the people should consider the implications of electing former lobbyists to office and the impact this will have on the future of lawmaking in the First State.

New emergency order requires masks in homes, private gatherings

From Delaware Live

When Gov. John Carney rounded up all the modifications of his State of Emergency Order and put them into one new document, it added a sentence:

“A private residence where there is an indoor gathering of more than 10 people who do not reside at that property shall be considered an indoor space open to the public for purposes of this Order.”

That is new, confirmed Carney spokesman Jon Starkey, “though we have had some restrictions on private gatherings for a while.”

The new rule comes as Labor Day weekend is heading into full swing, with the last parties and cookouts of summer.

The new verbiage showed up Thursday, when Carney issued a press release saying that he had signed the 27th modification to his State of Emergency, combining all active COVID-19 restrictions into a single order, creating an Omnibus Executive Order.

The modification also formalized reopening bar service in Delaware beach communities and required that businesses more strictly enforce face covering requirements among their employees.

The new addition — in the section about face coverings — essentially requires homeowners and guests to follow the same protocols that restaurants and other public places do: wearing masks unless eating, but making sure the face coverings are on if you are moving around.

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Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce set to launch soon

From Delaware Business Times

MIDDLETOWN — To amplify the voices of and opportunities for success for Black business owners, a Middletown consultant is leading efforts to form a Delaware chapter of the National Black Chamber of Commerce.

Khan Consulting President and CEO Ayanna Khan started the groundwork for the Delaware Black Chamber of Commerce (DEBCC) this summer, but envisions a future organization that not only advocates for Black business owners, but also grants them a door to funding opportunities and workforce development.

“There is definitely a disconnect in the business community when it comes to helping Black business owners,” Khan told Delaware Business Times. “This will be the state’s first chapter, and it’s time to start one. We need to pull together to make sure these businesses are not left behind.”

A survey conducted by the Global Strategy Group showed that only 12% of Black and Latino businesses who applied for aid from the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) received the full loan amount requested. About 26% of businesses surveyed received only a fraction of what was requested.

In Delaware, 14 out of the total 2,073 PPP loan recipients identified as businesses or nonprofits run by a person of color. Of the 14, five recipients identified as a Black-owned business or organization. Overall, 138 applicants identified as white and 1,921 applicants did not identify their race.

That inequality spoke volumes to Khan, especially since her firm helped nonprofits bring in millions through grants and fundraising.

“Seeing that Black business owners locked out of the PPP across the country because they didn’t fit the eligibility or the requirements, that really spoke to me,” Khan added. “Here I am, able to bring in millions for my clients and there’s a chance that businesses like mine wouldn’t see anywhere near the amount. No matter where you are in the state, it’s access to capital that’s the main struggle for Black businesses.”

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