The timing of the DuPont headquarters announcement Monday left a lot of unanswered questions. Doug Rainey tries to sort through them.
Delaware State Chamber of Commerce President Rich Hefron tried to put the best face on the decision by DuPont to move its headquarters to the Chestnut Run campus.
“It could have been worse,” Heffron said, adding that the state and city now have a chance to convince the Chemours chemical spin-off company to permanently occupy space in downtown Wilmington.
Heffron would not speculate on reasons for the move, but noted that DuPont could have chosen to locate elsewhere. Rumors of the company moving out of state make the rounds from time to time.
In the announcement on Monday, DuPont disclosed that 800 to 1,000 DuPont staff at headquarters would head to Chestnut Run, effective in July, with a comparable number from Chemours moving to downtown.
Chemours, which will be spun off as a publicly traded company, will then decide on the final location for its corporate headquarters.
Those close to DuPont saw moving day approaching as the company emptied out and sold off other buildings downtown, unloaded the Barley Mill site and constructed modern office space in Chestnut Run.
The remaining possibility was that DuPont would operate a small headquarters with a couple of hundred people downtown. That possibility disappeared on Monday.
Driving all decisions was a desire to not look as if the company was turning its back on the troubled city that of late has taken a hit from national coverage of its high homicide rate.
It is not hard to envision headlines tying the crime rate to the DuPont decision, even with the company back filling the space with staff from Chemours. A couple may have been written already.
Another factor may have been stockholder activist Nelson Peltz, who wants DuPont to split up into a couple of other companies in addition to Chemours.
His call for DuPont to cut costs may have moved up the moving timetable and set the stage for other changes that include outsourcing management of The Playhouse, country club and hotel.
Then we have the homicide rate – the proverbial elephant in the room.
City, community and some business leaders are quick to point out the safety and relatively low crime rate of downtown.
But management at downtown companies is beginning to hear from employees who are nervous that the problem could spill over into other areas.
And too many of us have witnessed an instance of street crime, one example from a couple of years back being a purse snatching.
Such incidents may be more likely in a suburban parking lot, but one incident in downtown can come with many more witnesses.
A recovering economy and a need to recruit highly skilled professionals who can pick and choose magnifies this issue. At present, Wilmington might not be a first choice.
A few observers have noted that JPMorgan Chase, one of the largest employers in the city, has acquired the South Campus of AstraZeneca near the city.
Chase will have no trouble filling the existing building on the campus, with room at the site to build more office space.
It does own the former Christina Gateway office towers, which are fully occupied. To date, no rumors of Chase eyeing other sites in the city have surfaced.
Capital One, which has been scouting the market and has job sites scattered around downtown, is another worry.
So far, the bank (formerly ING Direct) has been tight-lipped on its plans, but has options outside the city.
The news left Mayor Dennis Williams in an uncomfortable position.
Social media posts were quick to blame the mayor, who waited to comment on the news. The mayor may have had little to do with the decision.
But he did not help the situation by remaining silent for a time and getting that “could not be reached for comment” tagline in early press accounts.
The mayor and Council President Theo Gregory did issue a release that expressed hope for the future of Chemours finding a permanent home in the city.
For now, the city, state, county and business community have been given time to see if Chemours can emerge as a long-term occupant of the DuPont building, and implement a long-term strategy.
But with news of the move, the time frame for dealing with the city’s perception as “Murder Town USA” has been compressed.