Delaware business takes a hit

    This was a terrible week for Delaware business.

    First came the news that Henrik Fisker, the founding partner and executive chairman of the electric car maker named after him, resigned, reportedly over the direction of Fisker Automotive’s business strategy.


    Normally, news like this would come as a blow to residents hopeful for the promised jobs that were supposed to come to the former GM Boxwood Road Plant near Wilmington. Unfortunately, Delawareans are punch-drunk by now thanks to the endless stream of bad news coming from the troubled electric car manufacturer.

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    To convince Fisker to come to Delaware, Governor Markell agreed to give the company a guaranteed loan of $12.5 million and a grant of $9 million to offset utilities bills during Fisker’s retrofit of the plant. The loan would have become a grant if Fisker showed it created 2,495 direct and indirect jobs in five years. That was in 2009.

    Signs point to that never happening. According to reports, Fisker may soon be absorbed by a much larger Chinese parent (ironically, a government-owned car maker). And as long as the Department of Energy bars the company from drawing down on the remaining $336 million of a $529 million federal loan, no Karma Atlantics will be built in Delaware.

    It’s easy to trash Governor Markell in hindsight when a deal like this goes sour, and to label Fisker as “Solyndra on wheels,” but in my estimation it was worth the shot to try and recoup thousands of auto industry jobs Delaware lost during the recession.

    Another company the state took a shot on was AstraZeneca, who announced on Monday they were cutting 1,200 jobs in Wilmington.

    Delaware offered the company a $40.7 million package of grants and tax credits to locate their headquarters in Fairfax back in 1999. Under the package, AstraZeneca agreed to hire at least 4,000 people under a five-year agreement that expired in 2004 (the company had as many as 5,000 employees working in Fairfax in 2005). The state also agreed to spend about $70 million on road improvements.

    So was it worth it? Despite losing 1,200 jobs, Wilmington still benefited from more than 10 years of high-paying jobs, and the company’s headquarters will still remain in Fairfax. There’s also a small chance the state could attract a company to lease lab space that AstraZeneca plans to raze.

    “In the end, if you don’t take the shot at it, and in this case, we won, we didn’t win for the long-term like we would have hoped, a couple generations. But in the end, they’re still here,” Delaware Economic Development Director Alan Levin told WDEL’s Amy Cherry.

    Obviously, every deal is different, and you have to judge each on their own merits. It’s easy to slam politicians in hindsight when all the facts are in. It’s harder to give them credit for taking an educated risk that could have paid off heavily for the state, and failed.

    Hang on, I think I see Governor Markell in line to buy Powerball tickets…


    Rob Tornoe is a political cartoonist and a WHYY contributor. See more of his work at, and follow him on twitter @RobTornoe.

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