The executive director of the Kent Economic Partnership, Linda Parkowski, sees a bright future for the county’s manufacturing sector.
Linda Parkowski had one objective when she became executive director of the Kent Economic Partnership in 2018: “Tell our story,” she says. “The story of Central Delaware was only being told internally. That needed to change.”
Now that story is changing Kent County’s landscape.
The Kent Economic Partnership was a county program in 2010 before the Greater Kent Committee stepped in 2018. After a commissioned economic analysis showed a lack of economic development in the area, the organization’s mission was to remedy that. “That analysis became my blueprint,” Parkowski says.
Dover’s projected sweet spots were small and medium-size manufacturers, warehouse and distribution centers, health care, and other business services. Parkowski recognized the county already had the manufacturing, warehouse and distribution workforces in place, but could expand upon health care and other businesses services.
In a pre-pandemic world, Parkowski traveled the country pitching Central Delaware as the future home to industry titans. “With low taxes, our identity as the corporate headquarters of the world, low cost of living, proximity to major metro areas … the story wrote itself,” she says.
Dover had something else, too—undeveloped land and unoccupied industrial space, like the old Pittsburgh Paint and Glass (PPG) facility that closed up shop after losing a contract with Lowe’s.
Parkowski was courting the Utah-based National Vinyl Products, which works in fencing, as a buyer for the 173,000-square-foot building. One problem: They didn’t need that much space and would only sign on with a renter for the surplus square footage. “It was on us to find a tenant, and it was do or die,” Parkowski says. “We were in competition with another town that was throwing in everything plus the kitchen sink.”
Fortuitously, Parkowski was in a meeting when a representative for USA Fulfillment, a company she identified as a potential tenant, walked into the room. “I said, ‘Hey, you have any expansion plans? Because I have space,’” she says. “Then everything just aligned.”
The deal was sealed in September 2020, to the tune of $4.25 million. “That was a huge win,” Parkowski says.
The wins have kept coming, even in the pandemic. Soon after the PPG deal, U.S. Corrugated—a global leader in corrugated box manufacturing—announced it was bringing an $80 million megafacility to town. Add military supplier Avalon Industries and graphics manufacturer Duratech to the pandemic roll call.
When the pandemic hit, she thought, “I’m just going to be on webinars for the next month,” Parkowski says. “But the site inquiries didn’t stop, particularly from COVID-proof or COVID-amplified companies.”
She forecasts the coronavirus might help build out another sector, too: health care.
“We don’t yet have the workforce,” Parkowski says. “But with the CARES Act and Gov. Carney’s executive orders, health care is one of the training programs that can be paid for with that money.”
Dover might not be in the national conversation yet, but give Parkowski another year. “I hear large industry real estate brokers tell their clients Delaware is the next frontier,” she says. “We’re ready.”