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Al DeWalle, president of AAA Mid-Atlantic, was impressed by the response from local officals when the organization was considering a move from Philadelphia to the Wilmington Riverfront.
Photograph by Tom Nutter

Many enticements have persuaded companies large, small and in between to locate in Wilmington: its central location along the Washington-Boston corridor (“the best located city in the country,” according to Mayor James Baker), the business friendly Court of Chancery, low taxes and more.

Another advantage is its size, which creates a network of government officials that actually gets things done.

“We are still small enough to move things forward quickly,” says Joe DiPinto, Wilmington’s director of economic development. “If you want to build a place, we have the ability to marshal our forces, put a focus on what you want to do, then try to speed the permit system and plan reviews and so on. Other jurisdictions, like Pennsylvania and New Jersey, seem to have a ponderous process. The great thing here is, I can walk across the hall and get the license and inspection people so we introduce people to them and they can schedule right away and move forward.”

All of these reasons and more came into play when the following companies decided to move to Wilmington.

AAA Mid-Atlantic

Moving from Philadelphia to the Wilmington Riverfront in June 2005 was not a decision made lightly by AAA Mid-Atlantic. The not-for-profit organization had been a proud corporate citizen of Philadelphia for more than 100 years. AAA had considered other sites in its territory—Pennsylvania, Virginia, Maryland and New Jersey.

But the city of Wilmington and the state put on such a full-court press that president Al DeWalle and the organization felt compelled to move the offices here.

“In my career, I have done business in eight different states,” DeWalle told the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce in 2004, “and I have never seen cooperation between the public and private sectors like you have here. And I have never seen the pride of ownership of a redevelopment project as strong as it is here with the Riverfront.”

DeWalle and other AAA Mid-Atlantic executives were overwhelmed by the response from Delaware officials.

“From our first contact with Judy McKinney-Cherry (director of the Delaware Economic Development Office), you let us know you wanted us here,” he said.

“Governor Ruth Ann Minner interrupted her recuperation from knee surgery to attend a dinner for us. She, Mayor Baker and U.S. Senator Tom Carper each talked to me personally several times. All three gave me their cell phone numbers. The CEOs of many local businesses called to let me know how great it was to do business here. The Blue Rocks (of the Carolina League of minor league baseball) even sent me a jersey and a letter saying how they wanted AAA to be part of the Delaware team.”

In addition to the welcome, DeWalle says, AAA’s new state-of-the-art building combined the best features of an office park and an urban environment. Lastly, the Wilmington headquarters, just off of I-95, offers easy access by train and, of course, car.

Barclays Bank Delaware

Joe Purzycki recalls visiting the riverfront with his brother Mike back in the mid-’90s. Mike Purzycki had just become executive director of the Riverfront Development Corporation, and Joe had left coaching college football a few years earlier to enter banking.

“It was just flat acreage of flat land and the river,” says Joe, “and a vision.”

The vision became a reality. As chief operating officer of Barclays Bank Delaware, Purzycki is in the middle of it all.

Barclays moved from temporary quarters in the Nemours Building in downtown Wilmington to the Riverfront in 2001.

“There were several strong reasons why we saw the riverfront as an ideal location,” says Purzycki. “First, there’s the river itself. For employees and partners, there’s some–
thing really appealing about being on the water. And we’re a fast-paced, entrepreneurial marketing company, so we felt the Riverfront captured that spirit.

Then there’s the location. “Wilmington is a hub of financial services. To be located here enables us to be around the best talent in the credit card business.” Barclays is the 13th largest credit card issuer in the country, the fastest growing of the top 25.

“We’re in the partnership business. We partner with people like U.S. Air, so to have a train station a five-minute walk from our headquarters is just ideal. We’re a half hour from the Philadelphia airport, too. We’re easily accessible.”

Barclays’ 900 employees are part of the fabric of the community. “We’re committed to making Wilmington an even better place,” Purzycki says. “Most of our employees mentor children at the Wilmington city schools, and we also partner with the West End Neighborhood House and the YWCA.”

BrightFields, Inc.

Perhaps the most unusual enticement to a new business in Wilmington was a landfill. But that’s exactly what convinced BrightFields, Inc. to move from New Castle to the city two years ago.

An environmental consulting and remediation services firm, BrightFields originally helped industry comply with environmental regulations. It also now provides environmental management and remediation services, as well as removal of storage tanks.

Wilmington courted BrightFields when the company began looking to build a larger facility in 2005. The clinching argument, according to Curt Hatfield, senior program manager for the company, was that, “We were able to identify a brownfield property in the city limits, on the Seventh Street peninsula, that we liked.”

BrightFields’ Wilmington property had been a city landfill, so it was available for lease at an attractive price, provided it could be reclaimed. In cooperation with Putnam Development Co., which shares ownership of the land and building, BrightFields capped the site with soil and other cover, then built a one-story, 15,000-square-foot building—in just nine months.

The attractive price wasn’t the only incentive. “We also saw tremendous growth opportunities in terms of the redevelopment work going on and the resulting momentum,” Hatfield says. “Also, the people in the city government were very accessible and easy to deal with. They provided us with incentives. We also saw that the city partnered well with other agencies such as the state, the Riverfront, DelDOT, etc.”

The company has added 10 employees to the 20 it brought to Wilmington two years ago. “Personally, I love being in the city and having so many options for lunch,” says Hatfield. “Everything’s close, and I don’t find parking to be a problem. We can go to the Riverfront or up on Market Street, or just go next door to the Up The Creek.”

Bayada Nurses

New Castle County’s loss was the city’s gain in the case of Bayada Nurses, one of the largest home health care providers in the United States. Founded in 1975, Bayada employs more than 10,000 registered nurses, licensed practical nurses, home health aides, and therapists in more than 130 offices in 16 states.

The company has four offices in Delaware, two of which moved from suburban Wilmington to 750 S. Madison St. on the Riverfront in the past two years.

“We were looking for more space, and we decided to take a look in the city,” says Jean Mullin, director of Bayada’s private duty office in Wilmington. When they saw the South Madison Street building, she says, it felt like home. “The rates were very competitive with what we had been paying,” says Mullin. “It’s an older building, but the owner, Pettinaro, had gutted and completely rebuilt the interior.”

The city offered significant incentives, including waiving the head tax for the first five years of occupancy, providing Bayada maintains or increases its number of full-time employees. The Wilmington head tax—$10 a month per employee—is levied on employers who have more than five full-time employees. The waiver is especially advantageous to employers who expect significant growth, and that would include Bayada.

“The location also helps our recruitment and retention efforts because we’re now more centrally located and accessible,” says Mullin.

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