A mixed Delaware economic message in Grow Wilmington Fund



The city of Wilmington has created a Grow Wilmington Fund, that will be used to attract new Businesses, according to the News Journal.

Here is John Watson’s commentary:

The hope is more jobs will come to the city.  Mayor Dennis Williams has met with banking officials to discuss what market rates could be expected in the $4 million worth of funds available to those who apply.

The loans will be offered below those typical rates through Discover Bank. The nonprofit National Development Council plays its part in marketing the program and providing underwriting services to potential borrowers.

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It’s reported that the Wilmington Urban Development Action Grant Corporation, known for helping spur major developments in the city, is providing resources to help keep the fund’s rate low. Several local companies are said to be “interested in the financing”. This sounds like a good idea, but there is one big problem that needs to be discussed about the loans. They are only being made available to companies that have been around for at least three years, employing less that 500 people, and have revenues between $500,000 and $20 million. Each of the loans from the fund will be at least $150,000.

Wilmington Economic Development Director, Jeff Flynn, said “it won’t be as difficult to find Wilmington companies, those that want to grow and expand.”  He added, “It’s got to be a company that’s going to add jobs or add investment in the city of Wilmington”. 

Now you may be thinking, this is great. Well, yes and no. It’s a great idea that the mayor wants new businesses to help our city grow and prosper. The not so great part about all of this is, something we should all think about and support. I was called by some small business owners in the black community. They feel many small business owners are being overlooked by the mayor’s grand plan.  They  also think Mayor Williams picked the wrong person to be the city’s Director of Economic Development. 

Their claim is the mayor “dissed” (their word) some of his strongest supporters by appointing Jeff Flynn, to the post. Their choice was Thornton Carroll.  They the mayor ignored an avalanche of telephone calls supporting Carroll.

Mayor Williams appointed Flynn, who had served as the interim director after the sudden and unexpected resignation of Harold Gray. 

Carroll is an African American businessman with experience in business development. Those  who support Carroll say Mayor Williams also seemed to “diss” (again, their word) black and other small business owners in Wilmington with his recent announcement of a business loan program.

Under the rubric of the “Grow Wilmington Fund”, low interest rates will be made available to attract new businesses to Wilmington as well as provide funding for existing businesses to expand. On the surface, this would seem to be a very positive program, but it really is not, because it requires businesses to have annual earnings of $500,000 to qualify for the loan program.

By setting the earnings threshold so high critics say the mayor and Flynn have effectively disqualified some 99.9 percent of black and minority owned and operated businesses, and other small businesses as well.

After hearing and reading all of that, I wondered if the Mayor and others involved with him have given and thought to the negative effects on Wilmington neighborhoods with their small businesses going out of business for the lack of funds.

With mom and pop neighborhood small grocery stores, dry cleaners, barber shops, shoe shops, etc., having to close their blinds and shut their doors. We have all seen that happen and it could happen again.

There is a reality at play here. There are more small businesses, with limited earnings and limited  employees than there are in big ones, It’s the small ones who could really use the help because the bigger businesses do get an ample share of state and federal support.  

I know some leading members of city council, and County Executive Tom Gordon support the handling of the “Grow Wilmington Fund”, but have any of them given and thought about how the small business men and women really feel about this? 


John Watson is a former Wilmington radio talkshow host who now offers his opinions on newsworks.org/delaware.





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