Sussex County stands ready to help growth of businesses

By Lynn R. Parks

Incoming county administrator Todd Lawson told members of the Greater Seaford Chamber of Commerce on Friday that Sussex County stands ready to encourage new businesses to locate here and existing businesses to expand. The county council recently approved giving tax breaks to new or expanding businesses of up to $800 for each new full-time employee they bring to the county.

Its a small package, but its something that were proud of, Lawson said. It shows that we are ready and prepared to help.

Lawson said that the county has seen interest expressed in its incentive package. A few businesses already want to talk to us next year about coming to Sussex or expanding, he said.

This package is indicative of the countys willingness to help spur business development, he said. And the county is not alone: I can tell you that all of your elected representatives are actively engaged in bringing businesses here, Lawson said.

Thats the Sussex County way, he added. All hands are on deck in helping to get new businesses and expand businesses. That coordination shows that we really care.

Lawson said that following the recent recession, the Sussex economy is still in recovery mode. The number of building permits issued this year, 6,742, was down only slightly from last years 6,768. The number of foreclosures, 1,063, is down from 1,510 last year.

The unemployment rate remains at 7 percent, lower than the state and national rates but still not down to where we were a few years ago, Lawson said.

Despite that, the county ended the 2011 fiscal year with a $3.4 million budget surplus. Last Tuesday, county council members voted to use that surplus to pay for a one-time tax rebate for residents,

to boost employee pension and benefit funds and for several grants, including $35,000 for the newly-remodeled Nanticoke Senior Center.

Lawson attributed the surplus to an unexpected uptick in the realty transfer tax and to county councils request to employees that they work within department budgets. They asked them to do more with less and that was significant, he said. The county also did not replace employees that it lost through attrition, meaning we had less weight on the books.

Lawson started his job as administrator appointee on Aug. 10. A native of Georgetown with a law degree from George Mason University, he was working for the Russ Reid Co. in Washington, D.C., which lobbies on behalf of non-profit organizations, including municipalities, when he was hired. He will replace the retiring David Baker on Jan. 1.

Coming back to Sussex County to work is a dream come true, he said. I cant tell you how humbled and honored I am to serve as county administrator.

His first five months on the job have been pretty amazing, he said. If you remember, we had an earthquake, and hurricane with a tornado and then the Seaford flood. It seems like the first three times that I visited Seaford, it was raining.

Having grown up on a farm, Lawson said that he is especially interested in protecting the countys poultry industry. In particular, he said, the industry is facing new nutrient management requirements in connection with the federally-mandated cleanup of the Chesapeake Bay that could harm it.

It is up to us to protect that industry as best we can, he said. If it left Delaware, that would mean ramifications that we cant even imagine.

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