A Spotlight Is Shown On Economic Growth In Wilmington’s Three Rivers Region

Published November 1, 2023 at 7:57 PM EDT

The Opportunity LIVES Here symposium brought together public officials, business professionals, and community leaders to discuss economic growth in Southeast Wilmington’s Three Rivers region.

That included barriers to growth – such as the state’s lack of affordable housing, ability to attract young people, and lack of investment in minority-owned businesses – and progress made in those areas.

Brown says the idea is to find methods to fuel growth.

“It’s about building a strong local economy, and that comes through economic development. It’s about the investment in our human capital and our infrastructure. And so over the last 5 years we’ve invested over $300 million into the 2nd senatorial district around our schools, our community centers, our roads and bridges. So we built the infrastructure that welcomes business to be successful and to be vibrant,” explained Brown.

Brown hopes to build off of those investments and leverage the area’s industrial parks to recruit more businesses in manufacturing, technology, and bioscience to bring jobs to the area.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce Senior Vice President of Strategic Alliances and Outreach Rick Wade says that’s critical in long-term recovery.

“We can’t simply revitalize communities overnight. And [recover] the loss of thousands of jobs over decades. New corner stores, liquor stores, fast food restaurants, hair salons – they can’t fully make up for the shuttered and closed factories,” said Wade. “Our goal must be to develop businesses connected to emerging and high growth sectors like health, and technology, and energy, semiconductors, the space economy, and the like.”

He adds those types of jobs have declined since the 1970s, but their ability to provide steady employment for people with a range of skill and educational levels is just the economic boost the Three Rivers area, and similar communities across the U.S., needs.

Brown is also looking to draw in small and mid-sized businesses to the area, and provide residents with more opportunity for entrepreneurship.

The 2nd senatorial district is a predominantly Black area. And nationwide, that racial group continues to face barriers in wealth creation.

While these barriers stem from centuries of systemic and structural racism, a lack of action to achieve wealth equity has sustained them.

Cerron Cade, director of the Delaware Office of Management and Budget, says the state is working to make progress in that area.

“If we want to address some of these issues when it comes to equality in the business arena, we’ve got to be intentional about the way we spend our money, and where we spend our state dollars,” said Cade. “And being intentional, what that looks like, is making sure that we have initiatives to incentivize businesses working collaboratively with local companies, with minority and women-owned businesses. And making sure that we put our money where our mouth is on these initiatives.”

Their attention is currently on the construction industry, and working to increase diversity in contracting and subcontracting with minority-owned businesses.

Access to housing also continues to be a problem across the State of Delaware.

While progress has been made in increasing the Three Rivers area’s affordable housing stock, as can be seen in efforts made by the state, the Wilmington Housing Authority, and local organizations like Habitat for Humanity and the WRK Group, it’s not enough.

Habitat for Humanity NCC CEO Kevin Smith says many are forced to spend around 50% of their income on housing, making saving and building credit nearly impossible.

“We all need to get on board to do what we can to make a difference with this. Volunteering, giving, putting pressure on political officials,” Smith emphasized. “We have to change the conditions that have created this problem as well. And there’s many. There’s discrimination, and a long history of people who have gotten in the way of us just having a decent place to live.”

Sen. Brown hopes finding ways to boost the local economy through events like this will help pave ways for more social, structural, and cultural investments into the community.

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