State administrators says companies are returning to Delaware and bringing jobs with them

Area legislators spoke about economic recovery, education and other issues at a town hall meeting in Pike Creek Monday night.

Organized by members of the Cedars United Methodist Church, located in the Cedars development in Pike Creek, the meeting was an opportunity for residents to pose a number of questions to a variety of state officials.

The panel included State Rep. Kimberly Williams, D-19, Senator Patricia Blevins, D-7, and Alan Levin of the Delaware Economic Development Office.

On the topic of economic recovery, Levin said the state administration is “making progress” towards a revival of jobs in the region for those affected by a series of closings in recent years.

Those closings include the General Motors plant on Boxwood Road where many people in the Cedars and the surrounding neighborhoods were employed before shutting the doors in 2009.

“We have made strides in dealing with the economic crisis,” Levin said. “Nothing has probably given us more angst than what happened at General Motors.”

He also said that he has never worked with anyone more committed to finding jobs than Gov. Jack Markell, citing an email he’d received that day from Markell at 4 a.m., when most other people are still in bed – Levin included.

That email, he added, was about Chiquita Brands International’s recent acquisition of a rival vendor – Ireland’s Fyffes plc.

According to Levin, Chiquita is the second largest importer to the Port of Wilmington; Markell wanted to know what the acquisition – which experts predict will see Chiquita moving 160 million crates of bananas annually – meant for Delawareans.

Levin said the merger would likely be a positive, provided it passes the European Union’s scrutiny.

He also talked about recent news that New York-based JP Morgan would bring 500 new jobs to Delaware – a move that would see the company receive a $1.5 million taxpayer grant from the state.

“They’re here because of the workforce that we have; they think that Delaware’s workforce makes sense. They believe that we have trained our citizens well,” he said.

Levin said the state administration is working hard to satisfy demands for work, with millions of dollars already invested in job training.

“We’re not even close to where we want to be, but we’ve taken unemployment from a high of 8.4 percent in 2010 to last week’s number of 6.1 percent, in the state, which is sixth-tenths of a point below the national average,” Levin said. “And we think it’s going to go lower as we go on.”

Blevins said that in her district, while many residents may be back to work, they are not working at the level they were at GM, adding that she believed roughly 35 percent of the displaced workers come from her region.

She also said that the jobs and financial security provided by GM are sorely missed in those communities.

“When that happened, it took the heart out of some of those neighborhoods,” she said. “But it’s come back.”

When asked what was being done to sustain working class manufacturing jobs in the region, Levin said that even though several companies are coming to Delaware, it is not going to happen overnight.

He added that while the administration once thought they had a deal for the Boxwood Road facility with Fisker Automotive before they went bankrupt, China-based Wangxiang – who recently acquired Fisker – could still consider the same deal.

The state is attempting to recoup $20 million in incentives to Fisker through the company’s bankruptcy proceedings.

“I feel very confident in saying, there will be a second life at that facility,” he said. “It’s too good a location (and) it has too good a workforce.”