Kent Leaders Focus on Plan For Agri-business Innovation

DOVER — Kent County has farm fields aplenty, vast wastewater treatment capacity, cutting-edge land-grant universities and so much more to support lucrative agri-business and food innovation industry.

Three local economic minds got together to form a preliminary plan to take advantage of central Delaware’s resources and unify entities that have “been somehow operating in separate silos” for years, as one leader said at Tuesday night’s 70-minute presentation at Levy Court.

With Kent Economic Partnership Executive Director Jim Waddington taking the lead, and City of Dover Economic Development Director William Neaton and Delaware State University’s Economic Development Center Director Dr. Michael Casson making salient points throughout, a new vision of what could be was illustrated to local leaders from the county and municipal realms, along with private sector and interested community folks.
“We could be seen as an Agriculture Innovation Valley,” Dr. Casson said, harkening back to the technological innovation growth in Silicon Valley years ago and what it brought to the California area.

“We have the training, research and facilities to be a fertile area to stimulate more agri-business entrepreneurials.”
The thought now is to bring together Levy Court resources with the City of Dover, Milford, Harrington, public entities and the private sector to cash in on an agriculture-rich area that could produce more jobs and revenue for the area through focused coordination.

“We’re looking at existing food assets through an economic development lens,” Mr. Waddington said.

So the next step is for the Kent County Initiative to create a county-wide steering committee to identify hub areas for potential food-related growth, including bringing processing plants to the area, creating and reviving food cluster-related enterprises and begin inventorying just what assets the area has to move forward.

Ultimately, success of the vision will be determined in bringing jobs and money to the area, Mr. Neaton said. The value of bringing new business is multiplied by the effect of money spent in the community to support such enterprises, Dr. Casson said.

Kent County has the existing structure to begin the support system through 87 manufacturing facilities, including 15 food manufacturers and 17 metal fabricators that are keys to building internal systems. Plus, there’s the existing public commitment to farmland, which includes 173,808 acres total and 59,567 (34 percent) that are preserved through legislation.

“There is already a substantial public investment in agriculture as an industry, and we need to build on that,” Mr. Waddington said.

Forming a new steering committee should be based on drawing from a wide range of expertise from the private sector, the economic development leaders said, including processors, distributors, producers, resale/retailers, restaurants, storage facilities, trade associations and marketing services.

Public entity support is sought from Dover, Milford and Harrington municipalities, Kent County Levy Court, Delaware Department of Agriculture, University of Delaware, DSU and Delaware Technical Community College, Kent County Tourism and other groups that benefit community growth.

Staff writer Craig Anderson can be reached at 741-8296 or
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