When Amazon announced its plans for a second headquarters, Delaware leadership committed to making a pitch that was independent of Philadelphia, if only to show that Wilmington is a city unto itself, capable of standing on its own two feet.
At the same time, Sen. Chris Coons was in Philly working on forming an HQ2 alliance.
“Delaware alone doesn’t have a chance,” he said, to the surprise of some in attendance at the 2017 Greater Philadelphia Leadership Exchange in October.
— Christopher Wink (@christopherwink) October 12, 2017
Coons’ strategy was sound, there’s really no doubt about it, given that Wilmington is part of Greater Philadelphia. Yet ultimately, Delaware was pitched alone.
We know how it turned out: Delaware, to the surprise of few in the First State, was not named as one of the 20 finalists. Also to the surprise of few, Philadelphia did. And that fact makes it hard to be crushed that Delaware didn’t make it.
For all intents and purposes, we’re still in the running.
Philly’s proximity is what qualified Delaware to make a pitch in the first place (Wilmington doesn’t meet the 1 million population requirement itself, but does meet the within-30-miles-of-a-major-population-center requirement).
Joined, by the numbers
As much as we — especially Wilmingtonians — want to see Philly and Wilmo as two distinct cities, we share a lot. More than 60,000 people commuted daily from Delaware to Pennsylvania or vice versa, with a nearly equal split, according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau’s American Community Survey five-year averages from 2009 to 2013, the most recent data set.
Wilmington and Newark are on the SEPTA commuter line. Via I-95, it takes about a half hour to get from Delaware to Broad Street. Our own state capital is twice as far from Wilmington than Philly is. We root for the Eagles and share an IKEA. Philly news broadcasts cover Wilmington, from crime to high school sports.
And yet, there’s still a gulf that isn’t necessarily there between Philly and Malvern or Darby or Cherry Hill.
I mean, I get it. I won’t even word it as “we’re a suburb of Philly,” because no one in the city of Wilmington (myself included) will agree to that. We’ve got our own history completely independent of Philly, our own culture, our own business community, our own symphony, art museum, ballet and first-run professional theater. We have our own baseball and basketball teams, our own coffee and pizza chains and beaches.
And we’ll still have those things if we embrace our proximity with Philly more. We — the business community and its leadership especially — should try and be more collaborative, more open and more able to admit that we don’t have to be 100 percent independent of our nearest major city to be a great city, a cultural center or a tech hub.
The Amazon HQ2 experience (regardless of whether you see HQ2 as a potentially good thing or a disastrous economic-development scam) may be the kick in the pants Wilmington needs to emerge as a valuable satellite of Philadelphia, rather than a lone wolf that doesn’t need anyone. Since the HQ2 top 20 dropped, already there’s buzz about Wilmington businesses making alliances in Philly.
Whether or not HQ2 lands in Philly, that’s healthy for Delaware.