(Photo by Holly Quinn)
There’s this running joke: elected officials in Delaware are so accessible, you get tired of seeing them.
Which, as it happened, had a talkback session moderated by Gov. John Carney.
The thing that makes the gag funny is that, in most places, having access to the governor, or senators, or the former Vice President of the United States, is a big deal.
“There’s no other place like this,” said speaker Robert Herrera, founder of The Mill, who noted that when he made his pitch to occupy the space, the building’s owners told him they’d bring in the mayor, governor and senators in the next day to discuss his plan’s impact. They were only half joking.
“Given a week, we could have gotten the [then] Vice President,” Herrera quipped.
— inWilmingtonDE.com (@INWilmingtonDE) April 26, 2018
Eugene Young, president and CEO of the Metropolitan Wilmington Urban League, spoke about the benefits of a tight community. “Remember the old Wilmington slogan, ‘A Place to be Somebody?'” he asked. “I mean, it’s true. Your name is just ‘dude’ in other places. Nobody knows your name.”
For Janelle Bowman, marketing manager of Zip Code Wilmington, access to decision-makers is only part of it. “We have all kinds of access,” she said. “Access to leaders, to big cities, to business, to tech.”
Brennan Stark, founder of Y Innovations, answered the “Why Wilmington?” question with another question: “Why not Wilmington?”
Stark, a recent Archmere grad, has chosen an unexpected path — instead of devoting his time to freshman college studies, he has designed and is building an eco-friendly house for a family in need in the 9th Ward, along with his his business partner, Steve Burns.
“Wilmington is my home,” he said.
“People come here to be a part of a community,” Young said. “We can use that closeness to make our city better.”
Which brings us around to the first speaker, who casually delivered the bottom line as to why people come to Wilmington, and why they stay.
Rob Pfeiffer, head brewer at Brew Earl Brewing and unofficial “Mayor of Tiltlandia,” the eclectic West Side neighborhood of Tilton Park, told stories of living in California, West Virginia and Oregon before settling in Wilmington.
“Why Wilmington?” He shrugged. “The people.”
This simple reason, which threaded itself through all of the subsequent talks, really is why people choose to stay in Wilmington.
To quote Bob Downing, founder of Delaware Sports League, during a different, but related, conversation, “People are going to stay in Delaware for the location, or even for the jobs. They stay because of relationships. Could be a boyfriend or girlfriend, family or friends in the community, it doesn’t matter — people are why people stay.”
And that, I think, really is the key, and something that is often missing from a conversation that often revolves around industry and geography. If we want people to come and live here, we have to let them know that there are people here they would want to hang out with and communities they would want to be a part of.
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