Bill Pfaff has been the economic development director of Sussex County for nearly six years. Prior to taking the helm as the chief driver of business development in the county, he spent 25 years as executive director of the Small Business Development Center associated with University of Delaware — an incubator for new companies and growth ideas.
“Jobs are only a part of the equation,” said Pfaff at a Sussex County Conservation District awards lunch in Millsboro this month. “Here in Sussex County, we are focused on the attraction, retention and expansion of business, and to create an entrepreneurial culture.”
The County is taking some innovative approaches to business attraction including creation of pop-up office parks, reconfiguring existing space for remote work and pivoting to the new “gig economy.”
The Excite Sussex Fund provides $16 million to attract employers, and the funding motto is “Keep Sussex Strong.” Excite provides longer-term loans of $250,000 to $1 million for companies to purchase equipment or real estate in the county. It’s a collaborative low-interest loan program underwritten by Discover Bank and the Grow America Fund.
“Our team has developed economic development zones associated with our waterways,” said Pfaff about the regional plan mapping. “We have the Nanticoke, the Indian River and the Broadkill zones, and we have put some funding behind it.”
He described the Delaware Coastal Business Park and the Great Outdoors Cottages parcel, which offers outdoor workspace cabins. There is 45,000 square feet of working space and about 150 employees working at the facility. The ribbon-cutting in Millsboro took place last December.
“These are very upscale cabins a business can rent,” said Pfaff.
“For the community, it means more jobs and more stimulus, and employment for a long time to come,” Blue Water and Great Outdoor Cottages CEO Todd Burbage said in a statement. “We plan to grow right here in our own footprint. We purchased the acreage right next door and already have plans to expand because it’s been so successful.
Pfaff lauded successful businesses at the Millsboro office cabin park, including Jenny’s Gems, which has 21 people.
“She is very successful selling these gems on Etsy and other online stores.”
He confirmed that the County may double the size of the Millsboro modular office work space to another 45,000 square feet.
The Western Sussex Business Park will also receive a $2 million investment from the County. “We are proud to announce that this one is under way,” said Pfaff.
The Frankford Business Park also has attracted companies, with158 employees and six new businesses.
“One of them is CP Cases, which we attracted away from Maryland,” said Pfaff about the business relocation. “They make cases for the military.”
The company, which also provides cases for industries including broadcasting, relocated to a Frankford 25,000 square foot production facility from Bishopville, Md., in December.
Pfaff also talked about Little Faces Learning Center in Georgetown and an initial $1.2 million investment to offer more childcare in the region. The daycare center has capacity for 47 children and has hired 15 childcare professionals.
“Daycare is critical to our region,” said the economic development official.
Christophe Tulou, executive director of the Delaware Center for the Inland Bays, made a comment during the discussion that business should consider offering housing options to people in connection with these new business parks.
“We need to maximize proximity to work,” said Tulou, who suggested more walkable and bikeable workplaces.
“Quality of life is very important to people who want to move their business to this area,” said Pfaff.