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Blogs and Articles

Delaware’s Workforce Development Plan Needs More Work

From: Kathleen Rutherford, Executive Director, A Better Delaware

Of the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) signed by President Biden on March 11, Delaware received $925 million to invest in one-time projects. One of the three largest projects in Delaware is a $50 million dollar investment in workforce development with a focus on job training.

While investing in jobs training seems like a noble and smart one, it leaves many questions unanswered. The primary issue with Delaware’s workforce development plan is that there is no information about how the money will be spent. Governor Carney stated of the allocations that “we’re focused on investments that will build on the strengths of Delaware’s world-class workforce and support Delaware families and businesses who were most affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. These workforce development programs will help Delawareans develop the skills they need to succeed in a 21st century economy.”

The goals Carney provides of “building on strengths” and “developing skills” are ones that cannot be measured, and we don’t know what time frame it should be measured over, as neither program has a specified end date.

The jobs training program will be broken into two primary components – the expansion of the Pathways Program and Forward Delaware. The Pathways Program focuses exclusively on students and is receiving one-third of this allotment – an investment in Delaware’s future that does not help the approximately 26,000 unemployed adults who are struggling to pay their bills right now.

Pathways began in 2015 serving about 20,000 high school students and with this funding will grow to serving 32,000 middle through high school students. An additional $8.3 million will be added to the program through the state budget.

Forward Delaware was founded in August 2020 and is managed by the Delaware Prosperity Partnership. It provides 20-week certification courses (directed toward those who became unemployed due to the pandemic) in the fields of healthcare, construction/trades, hospitality/food service, logistics and transportation, and computers/IT. In its first year, about 3,000 Delawareans took advantage of its offerings but only 1,476 – less than 50 percent – completed a training course. The initial investment in the program was more than $15 million. The certifications that can be acquired through Forward Delaware will make workers eligible for higher-paying, more specialized professions, but it’s a large investment few individuals have used and the Prosperity Partnership openly admits it has not tracked hiring details, and simply reports that “the fact that Forward Delaware exists is a good thing.

A lack of alignment between workforce development and the training itself are one of the five major pitfalls of workforce development success – and the above statement proves it’s at least one of the reasons this initiative in Delaware is likely to fail.

A Workforce Innovation and Opportunity analysis has evaluated Delaware’s workforce development programs and noted one of its top weaknesses as providing skills and training for professions that may not lead to self-sufficiency.

According to the Education Commission of the States, Delaware does not have a policy or process in place to identify high-demand occupations. Without any data to support which industries need skilled workers, Forward Delaware may be missing out on training workers for areas employers need the most – and those that may produce the best outcomes for trainees.

Several other states have dedicated workforce training programs that put Delaware to shame. South Carolina’s Department of Employment and Workforce utilizes several different programs that give individuals the choice to find a specific program that works well for them. With so many different options, there are ample opportunities to get individuals back into the labor force once they have been properly trained. On the other side of the spectrum, there is Georgia QuickStart. This company has a single training program that can provide customized job training, which makes it easier to implement on a state-wide level. The program receives 44 percent of its funding from the state and has managed to create over one million jobs since its founding in 1967

In a more recent report, Delaware was ranked seventh out of eight states  in the mid-Atlantic region in the 2021 Regional Workforce Development Rankings – showing it’s one of the worst at providing a strong workforce development ecosystem. With a new failing job training program, it doesn’t seem like Delaware’s on track to move up the ladder.

Delaware must move from a patchwork of semi-connected programs and services to building out the components of an integrated ecosystem which includes statistical evidence to support investments its workforce system and analysis of workforce training effectiveness, and outcomes. Only then will Delaware improve its standing in business competitiveness and economic growth.

 

 

 

 

 

Is the Diamond State Port a Sinking Ship?

From: Kathleen Rutherford, Executive Director, A Better Delaware

The Port of Wilmington on paper should be a profitable industry that brings Delawarean’s many maritime jobs. It is a top importer of fresh fruits and is in a favorable geographic position to allow truckers easy access to the nations interstate system. Despite this, the state-run Diamond State Port Corp was operating in the area with a $10 million loss annually. Their solution was to lease the port in 2018 to Gulftainer, a port operator based out of the United Arab Emirates. This decision was celebrated at first, but it is currently unclear if the $600 million deal  will turn profitable.

According to Gulftainer, it has continually lost money over the past three years.  Yet according to the American Journal of Transportation, Wilmington Port’s revenue increased by 50 percent year over year, including with the pandemic. This lack of cash by Gulftainer  is even more troubling when observing that they received $7 million from the federal government’s PPP program as well as a line of credit through their mortgage worth up to $350 million. Why has our state investment been delayed compared to other ports,  when food shipments seem to have held up well and financial resources abundant?

Additionally during the peak of the pandemic the State allowed for the company to postpone investing an additional $250,000,000 into the construction of a new container terminal. State permits for the facility had been approved albeit through questionable legislation which gave Gulftainer an advantage against other competitors. Senator Thomas Carper used his congressional influence to insert terms into the America’s water Infrastructure Act of 2020 (which he co-sponsored) that were specifically favorable to the company. These provisions include allowing Gulftainer to dispose of dredged material at federal dredge disposal sites for almost no cost and changing the environmental rules surrounding the Edgemore former chemical site by allowing for development permits to be issued for the port without the environmental studies that are typically required.

Delaware Secretary of State Jeffery Bullock with the help of our legislators made an amendment to Gulftainers original lease agreement. This amendment has effectively lowered the annual fee that Gulftainer pays to Delaware in exchange for the erasure of debt that Delaware owed to the company. The debt was revealed to be $13,400,000, but they failed to disclose the interest rate that Delaware was paying on the loan. Without this information, it is impossible to tell if this was a move made in the taxpayers favor or a money saving maneuver for the state.

There was also an attempt to gain access to emails sent between Gulftainer officials and the executive director of the Diamond State Port Corp that were denied. Refusing to make this information public knowledge may be indictive of either wrongdoing or an even an unfavorable economic forecast of the company’s future.

The Port of Wilmington has the potential to become one of Delaware’s greatest assets. It remains to be seen if Gulftainer will be able to turn the port profitable, with its current lack of financial management. It is clear however that offering Gulftainer favorable treatment and failing to publicly disclose all its dealings are troubling business practices by our State that should be questioned. Continued lack of accountability and transparency within our state government will erode public trust and discourage economic growth in Delaware.

 

 

 

 

 

Time to Say Goodbye

Delaware is now on its 29th modification  of its State of Emergency related to COVID-19 which was first declared on March 12, 2020. This State of Emergency can only be declared or terminated by Governor Carney.

During the past 450 days of the COVID lockdown, our state has been in a gubernatorial stranglehold of power and Delaware has been put in a situation where the free market does not rule, and individuals are prevented from making personal choices.

Despite months and months of lockdown, dozens of studies now reveal that these mandates were an ineffective pandemic response and did not correlate with a lower COVID mortality rate, but did correlate with a higher unemployment rate.

According to Wallet Hub, Delaware is ranked 50th in economic recovery since the start of the pandemic. Unemployment claims are up 1356% compared to this same week in 2019 – approximately four times the increase of the next largest jump in unemployment claims, leaving employers struggling to find workers to fill jobs.

While the jobs are plentiful, many parents are still prevented from getting back to work because their children are home from school. Not all of Delaware’s schools are open for full-time, in-person learning yet. Only seven states have a higher percentage of online or hybrid students.

Students have been kept home despite their unlikelihood to contract or spread the virus. For the entirety of the 2020-2021 school year, only 1,773 of Delaware’s 139,000 school children (less than 1.3 percent of total students) tested positive for the virus, and the rate of infected students was actually lower at private schools which held classes in person at a higher rate than public schools.

This time out of the classroom has set students back months, if not an entire year in their educations. Teachers have seen plummeting attendance and unparalleled failure rates throughout this year’s remote and hybrid learning. The state is simply throwing money at this issue, hoping students will manage to catch up. Approximately $124 million have gone to school districts and charter schools for an “accelerated learning program” – a vague plan for schools to create new ways to get their students back on track.

Delaware’s economic prospects continue to look bleak, even as COVID rates decrease at a steady rate. Infection rates are the lowest they have been in a year and the state appears to be on track to reaching its 70 percent vaccination goal by Independence Day.

This leads one to wonder why a State of Emergency is necessary at this point.  New Jersey, New York, and Maryland have eliminated almost all restrictions and Pennsylvania lifted all restrictions on Memorial Day. Governor Carney has refused to commit to any benchmarks or dates at which he will eliminate restrictions or mask mandates, leaving the duration of his State of Emergency a mystery.

Delaware Republican Rep. Richard Collins of Millsboro  has pushed to limit Governor Carney’s emergency powers, starting with House Bill 49, a proposal that would limit his orders to 30 days without approval by the General Assembly. After the failure of HB 49, lawmakers may have been left questioning what power they have held over the past year, and they’re not alone.

For this year’s sessions, in at least half all states, Republicans and some Democrats have proposed limiting their governor’s emergency powers in some way, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

In Pennsylvania, voters were able to vote on their governor’s emergency powers and became first in the nation to curb their governor’s State of Emergency authority. On May 18, 2021, more than 2 million residents voted in the referendum which will now end a governor’s emergency disaster declaration after 21 days and to give lawmakers the sole authority to extend it or end it at any time with a simple majority vote. Even before the referendum, Pennsylvania’s governor had less power than Delaware’s – the legislature had the ability to end an emergency declaration with a two-thirds vote.

While legislative dealings in Delaware have continued, government transparency has been extremely limited as citizens were essentially shut out of participating in the legislative process. For more than 450 days, Legislative Hall remained closed to visitors and even now, after its reopening, only 25 visitors are permitted in each chamber and must register online in advance. Constituents are limited to sitting in the gallery and still may not meet with their representatives inside the building.

Gov. Carney’s overextended executive powers will have long lasting negative effects on Delaware’s economy. Now is the time to say goodbye to Governor Carney’s state of emergency orders and for our legislators and the citizens of Delaware to demand our freedoms be restored.  Let COVID-19 be a learning lesson of how quickly our freedoms can be taken when so much authority lies in the hands of a single individual.

 

 

 

Can Dover Resist the Bait?

John Dryden, famous English poet, once wrote “Better shun the bait, than struggle in the snare”. While written with a different context and sentiment in mind, it is a cautionary tale that can easily be applied to the situation currently being faced by leaders in Dover.

During this upcoming state budget cycle, Delaware finds itself in the fortunate and rare position of dealing with the largest budget surplus in Delaware’s history. The Delaware Financial Advisory Council (DEFAC) estimates the budget for 2022 will contain a surplus of $1 billion.  Much of the surplus is the result of federal stimulus monies.

As such, budget surplus, often viewed as found or free money, is tempting “bait” hard for elected officials, to resist to fund pet projects, appease special interest groups, or plug a financial gap left by poor financial planning. These are all efforts that typically provide only short-term gains and are often more fueled by political motivations with upcoming elections or re-elections in mind.

The “snare” is the continuing financial burden and obligation for these new or expanded programs.  Gov. Carney has already committed $347 million of the surplus to future projects, according to  Delaware Live,  including a $50 million Clean Water Fund. With a robust budget why are we not considering tax cuts as well to increase economic growth?

After a difficult year, we have been presented with a rare gift that could move Delaware forward financially and economically in this post pandemic world. Other states are already showing the way.

Our neighbors in Maryland have created a within their Financial Incentives for Businesses initiative a Job Creation Tax Credit for businesses that create a minimum number of new full-time positions may be entitled to state income tax credits of up to $3,000 per job or $5,000 per job in a “revitalization area.” https://commerce.maryland.gov 

New Mexico’s S.B. 1 2021 was signed by its governor on March 3 and grants a $600 income tax rebate to families and individuals claiming the state’s working families tax credit, and, for businesses, establishes a holiday on gross receipts taxes for food and beverage establishments. https://www.journalofaccountancy.com/news/2021/mar/federal-coronavirus-aid-could-hobble-new-state-tax-cuts-credits.html

The United States Treasury Department recently issued comprehensive guidance on how States could use funds from the American Rescue Plan that would help implement tax reform efforts that could have long term lasting impacts for better budget planning and forecasting.  These tax reforms include:

  1. Protect businesses from the factory tax
    Perhaps the most pro-growth change enacted in the 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act (TCJA) was 100 percent bonus depreciation for business investments in machinery and equipment, also known as full expensing. This relieved manufacturers and other businesses of the so-called “factory tax.”
  2. Use revenue from interest cost deduction limitation to lower business tax rates States can remain conformed to the 163(J) limitation on business interest costs, which will produce additional revenues in upcoming years, and then use the resulting revenue to make a pro-growth change such as reducing the overall business tax rate in a manner that is revenue neutral.
  3. Cancel the upcoming innovation tax Current federal law allows businesses to deduct research and development costs in the year they are incurred. States could make costs permanently deductible in the year they are incurred. This would prevent a growth-reducing tax increase on the innovation economy and would not violate the “tax mandate” because it would reduce taxes relative to the FY 2019 baseline.
  4. Provide more rapid tax rebates for businesses that experienced pandemic losses from 2018-2020
    The TCJA also made changes to business net operating losses(NOLs) that restricted business ability to achieve rapid tax rebates when they experience income losses.

Spending the surplus was never going to be a problem for decision makers in Dover. Spending the funds in a way that resists the “bait” and puts Delaware on a path that is not just a recovery from COVID, but a path to longer-term economic growth is the challenge.

Our state’s fiscal year starts July 1st and the budget for it must be passed by the Delaware General Assembly by June 30th.  Contact your legislators if you believe that they should vote for a budget that focuses on proactive initiatives that sustain and grow Delaware’s economy.

 

 

How will Delaware overcome the workforce shortage?

With COVID-19 cases on the decline, restrictions lifting and businesses beginning to operate as usual, now seems like the perfect time for those unemployed due to the pandemic to get back to work.  But, in Delaware – a state with an unemployment rate above 6 percent – employers are struggling to find workers.

 

This is an unusual problem while recovering from a recession, but that is partly because the recession caused by COVID-19 was itself unusual. According to economist Douglas Holtz-Eakin,  three major factors changed during this recession. First, people did not need to prove they were seeking employment while on unemployment, self-employed and contractual workers became eligible for unemployment and, a $300 federal benefit was made available on top of existing unemployment insurance.

 

These changes have meant that 37 percent of those currently on unemployment are bringing home more than they made while employed pre-pandemic. This in large part contributes to the 8.1 million unfilled jobs across the country.

 

The Foundation for Economic Education says that the labor shortage caused by these compounding financial factors was an unintended consequence, but it wasn’t difficult to predict. It calls the supplemental unemployment benefits a “cautionary tale about what happens when lawmakers meddle in labor markets.”

 

Delaware’s worker shortage will likely be most visible this summer at the beaches. In 2019, Delaware’s tourism industry contributed nearly $4 billion to the economy – 42 percent of that came from Sussex County, home to Delaware’s top beach destinations. As tourists return in what are expected to be large numbers this summer, business owners predict they will not be able to offer the same quality of quantity of services as before.

 

According to Delaware Online, dozens of beach business owners are calling the employment crisis a “nightmare scenario.”  Some businesses quadruple their staff every summer with most the positions filled by spring break, but this year, the Rehoboth Beach-Dewey Beach Chamber of Commerce were compelled to host a job fair to help businesses fill their open positions – a need that has not existed in recent memory.

 

 

As of May 18th, Governor Carney’s office announced that the requirement of those on unemployment to be actively seeking a job will be reinstated beginning June 12. Will this be enough to improve the worker shortage?  Only time will tell what additional moves Gov. Carney will make to get Delaware back to work.