Delaware increases business, tourism opportunities (video)

U.S. Rep-elect Lisa Blunt Rochester spoke at the Mitchell Center for African American Heritage. (Newsworks/Zoe Read).

U.S. Rep-elect Lisa Blunt Rochester spoke at the Mitchell Center for African American Heritage. (Newsworks/Zoe Read).

This holiday season, history and economics may prove to be a great combiniation thanks to a collaborative effort to increase business and tourism throughout Delaware and on Wilmington’s Market Street.

On Tuesday, U.S. Rep-elect Lisa Blunt Rochester, D-Delaware, Wilmington Mayor-elect Mike Purzycki, D-Wilmington, the Small Business Administration and local historians announced several new programs to boost local business and tourism throughout the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway.

“We ran on a platform of economic opportunity, and it’s connected to so many things, including crime, it’s connected to education, it’s connected to your ability to buy a home,” Blunt Rochester said.

“So for us to be able to take the work the SBA is doing to support local business, to have Harriet Tubman, who is just an icon, to be part of this whole thing is incredible. It is the past, the present and the future all wrapped up in one.”

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The collaboration is an economic development plan to increase travel and shopping along the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway.

Delaware’s Byways are transportation routes adjacent or traveling through scenic, historic, natural, cultural, recreational and archeological destinations, and offer an alternative to driving on highways.

Delaware has six byways, including the Harriet Tubman Underground Railroad Byway, which opened in 2012. The 100 mile-long byway features historical sites significant to freedom seekers, abolitionists and Harriet Tubman, who escorted freedom seekers through the state.

Drivers will soon be able to use a new state driving guide, navigating them to various historical sites and museums, including the Mitchell Center for African American Heritage on Market Street. The guide will coincide with the grand opening of the Harriet Tubman Visitor Center in Dorchester County, Md. in March. Directional signage also will be constructed through the entire byway.

“You often hear history and cultural tourism are good for the economy—we’re seeing it in action here today,” said Scott Loehr, CEO of the Delaware Historical Society. “Cultural tourism is perhaps the fastest growing segment of the tourism market.”

In addition, the Byway Bucks program is expanding to downtown Wilmington, offering vouchers to spend at shops and restaurants along Market Street. The announcements fall just days before national Small Business Saturday, which encourages Americans to shop local during the holidays.

More than 95 million Americans shopped at small businesses on Small Business Saturday in 2015, and $14.3 billion was spent, said John Banks, Delaware Deputy Director for the U.S. Small Business Administration.

“The money goes right back into the local economy,” he said. “That’s crucial, because we know more than half of working Americans either own or work for a small business.”

A social media initiative also is underway to get the word out about the new business and historical tourism offerings.

Purzycki said he envisions a thriving Market Street in the near future, and believes the new initiatives are an important first step to achieving economic success in Wilmington. He said the city and state should work on more enterprises to incentivize business development.

“I always think we don’t have a strong enough entrepreneurial culture in our state, in our city,” Purzycki said.

“We ought to be doing a lot of things to foster young entrepreneurs, we ought to encourage people to take risks, and we’ve got to be with them—because I know how tough it is to walk into the bank with a great idea and have that banker look at you like, ‘There’s no chance we’re giving you any money, I don’t care how good your idea is.’ So you need people to help support us, and that’s at my heart and I think that’s what we want to do.”

To plan a trip along the byway and get spendable Byway Bucks visit the Delaware Bway Bucks Facebook page 

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