Why Kent County’s Economy is Booming Right Now

Photo by Deny Howeth

In 2018, Kent County’s economic forecast was looking gloomy. But as of recently, it looks like the sun is coming out.

According to a 2018 economic analysis performed by Rockport Analytics and Reach Market Planning for the Greater Kent Committee, healthcare and business services were underserved areas in Kent County. But with new businesses opening and established businesses reinvesting in Kent, that trend seems to be turning around.

Post Acute Medical (PAM) Rehabilitation Hospital in Dover began bringing more healthcare services to Kent in February 2019. The $17 million, 42,00-square-foot facility has 34 inpatient beds and outpatient therapy facilities. It’s the only one of its kind in the county.

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“We’ve been full for months,” says George DelFarno, director of strategic initiatives for PAM. As patients leave, new ones come in, he says. They’ve had referrals from neighboring states and as far as Bermuda.

Patients at PAM check in after surgery, illness or a traumatic event. The goal of the hospital is to help every patient gain their strength back so they can return home. The hospital even has rooms with household appliances set up to help the patient prepare for daily life once they return home from care.

The facility has 200-plus employees, ranging from physicians to specialized care nurses to therapists. They are always looking for more qualified care specialists, says DelFarno. Plus, they have already started thinking about what expansion might be necessary.

Kent County Delaware business economy
Photo by Deny Howeth

Right across the county line in Milford, Bayhealth Hospital wants to fill more positions at the new hospital that also opened in February of last year. From maintenance staff to doctors and administration, the 169-acre campus currently employs more than 3,800 people and expects that number to grow by five to 10 percent in the next year.

The new hospital is one stage in a long-term development plan, says Terry Murphy, Bayhealth CEO. Those plans include continued expansion at the Kent campus in Dover and the addition of a medical teaching component in 2021. The capital outlays expected in the next few years are budgeted at between $40 and $50 million.

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“We are very busy to keep up with demand,” says Murphy.

Murphy is also excited about the building Bayhealth left in downtown Milford, which is being repurposed to provide even more services for area residents.

Business in Kent County Delaware
Photo by Deny Howeth

Bought by Nationwide Healthcare Services, and named the Milford Wellness Village, the former Milford Memorial Hospital is expected to provide medical services, skilled nursing care, classrooms and office space. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services provided a grant for CHEER Senior Services, La Red Health Center and Educational Health Resources International to run programs out of the facility to help improve quality of life for homebound seniors.

Along with healthcare, other businesses are planting roots in Kent.

Chesapeake Utilities cut the ribbon on its new campus on the south edge of Dover in June 2018. Situated on a 20.6-acre plot, the campus provides a 56,000-square-foot office building, 33,000-square-foot warehouse and workspace for about 250 employees. Before building the campus, Chesapeake, a natural gas utility company with 78,000 customers in Delaware and Maryland, had their operations spread out through four different locations in Dover.

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“We wanted to stay in Kent County,” says Shane Breakie, Chesapeake vice president. The new location, just off Del. 1, allows for easy access to the highway to help workers get where they need to be.

The award-winning, environmentally friendly, 56,000-square-foot office building includes an office space, courtyard, conference rooms, wellness center, cafeteria, 33,000 square feet of warehouse space and room to grow. The company plans to break ground in the spring to build a new training facility for its employees and first responders.

“Kent is perfect for our service territory,” Breakie says.

Scott Rathfon, executive vice president of Century Engineering, agrees. His company just opened their 25,000-square-foot building down the street from Chesapeake. The company wanted to keep their Delaware headquarters in Dover because of the convenience it offered to the company’s employees and clients.

The new building more than doubles the space they had in their former Dover location. They were practically stacking people on top of each other at their former building and finding a parking space was almost impossible, Rathfon says.

The new building features a cubicle for everyone, seven conference rooms, storage space and room for future growth.

“The atmosphere is [our] favorite thing,” Rathfon says.

The two land parcels at the front of the property are available for development, he says. He’s hoping some new lunch spots fill the space.

“We have projects up and down the state and employees up and down the state,” says Rathfon. “Kent has always been good to us.”

Published as “Open for Business” in Delaware Today‘s 2020 Kent County Guide.

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