Some area businesspeople got to sit down and pick the brain of U.S. Sen. Tom Carper on Friday, Aug. 21. Mike Nally of Miken Builders, along with some of his staff, and Mike Jahnigan of the Sun Group of Businesses, with some of his staff, each met with the senator to talk shop.
Nally came to Miken – a residential and commercial construction and pre-construction planning company – with the background of leadership development and had owner Mike Cummings as a client. He discussed the concept of “economic gardening,” a demonstration program that was pioneered by the city of Littleton, Colo., in the late 1980s as an “entrepreneurial alternative to the traditional economic development practice of recruiting industries,” and ways to incorporate it into the state of Delaware and Delmarva region.
Nally also shared his work on “The Resourceful Leader” course with the senator and his staff. Under the leadership of Nally, Lead Your Way Solutions offers “multi-dimensional growth opportunities for individual companies interested in leadership development and advancement.”
One program that Lead Your Way developed and delivered in conjunction with the University of Delaware was The Resourceful Leader. The course participants represented a cross-section of business owners, business and community leaders and economic policy makers from throughout all of Sussex County, including current and targeted economic growth industries.
The course focused on leadership, personal accountability, economics and job growth. That program concluded in June, and Nally said Lead Your Way Solutions hopes to conduct several more sessions of the course in the next 12 to 18 months.
Carper noted last Friday that there is a dire need to bring manufacturing back to Delaware, especially in western Sussex. Referencing the DuPont nylon plant in Seaford, he said that 4,000 people used to be employed there – and that number is down to 150. “We desperately need to build things again to grow in Sussex County.”
Nally offered that getting the right people in the room and in the conversation will do wonders for Delaware and for it growing its own jobs in future years.
The group also discussed possibilities at nearby Wallops Island and the opportunities for Delaware to branch out through research and innovation.
“Sussex County has to get off those legs,” said Nally, referencing the county’s traditional ties to agriculture and tourism as primary business sectors.
He explained that Miken has been involved for the last year in establishing the feasibility, master plan and marketing of a new, sustainable science and technology campus for users that will “capitalize on the unique features of the regional community, provide new career opportunities for Sussex and Worcester county residents, link with other regional initiatives and support the business goals and objectives for our partners.”
The project is proposed to be located in Pokomoke, Md., and will involve partnership with the agricultural community, Wallops Island, NASA and regional educational research institutions and universities.
Finally, just recently, Miken Builders Inc. became certified as a Service-Disabled Veteran-Owned Small Business. Nally is a former Army Ranger. Through the certification process, they learned that, although the federal government and many states, including Maryland, have favorable programs for veteran-owned companies, the State of Delaware has no such program. They offered to assist the senator in the development of such a program in Delaware.
From there, Carper went on to visit the corporate headquarters of the Sun Group of Businesses, including Sun Marine Maintenance Inc., Sun Piledriving Equipment, Emeca/SPEUSA LLC and Deep Earth Technology. Mike Jahnigan, president of the Sun Group, invited the senator sit down with him and some of his staff.
Carper visited with several of the company’s engineers. First he talked with one who was rebuilding piling cylinders for a project that will eventually end up at the Jefferson Memorial. They also visited with James Massey, a service engineer. Massey was working on one of the rigs that just came back from five months of pile driving work at the Wallops Island launch pad.
When asked what type of projects they complete, Jahnigan explained that they can drive anywhere from one pile for a residential house to thousands for larger projects. He also explained that, while things are looking up – for example, they have more residential contracts this year than they did at the same time last year – it is still difficult for smaller companies to get access to the capital they need.
“I know there are thousands of companies like ours that face the same challenges, and it’s frustrating,” said Jahnigan.
Carper referenced the Small Business Lending Fund, which is part of the Small Business Job Act – a piece of legislation he and other legislators have been trying to pass since June, which Carper said might alleviate many of the challenges smaller companies are facing.
One of the points of the legislation, he said, would be to help small businesses access capital, which is a recurring challenge all over the country for small-business owners. It would establish a “small-business lending fund of $30 billion to provide capital investments to small community banks to increase small business lending.”
According to the United States Committee of Finance, of which Carper is a member, the fund is “limited to only the smallest banks” – those who hold less than $10 billion in assets, and the performance-based program would incentivize only those lenders that extend new credit by decreasing the dividend rate banks pay as they increase lending.’ The legislation also raises the cap on small-business lending.
Carper also engaged both business owners about the possibilities of manufacturing wind turbines at former Delaware manufacturing sites, such as the one in Seaford, as a viable option to start growing manufacturing again in Sussex County.
“We could buy the components in Asia, or Europe, or make them here,” Carper said regarding plans for offshore energy along the Atlantic states. “There are jobs that could flow out of a windmill farm – maintenance jobs, etc.”
For more information on the Small Business Jobs Act, visit www.finance.senate.gov. For more information on the Sun Group of businesses, visit www.sunmarineinc.com or www.sunpilefoundations.com. For more information on Miken Builders, visit mikenbuilders.com.