VIEWPOINT: Our progress, our future: Opportunity LIVES Here
Perhaps best known as the home of President Joe Biden, Delaware may be a small state, but we are unquestionably mighty – thanks to some key decisions that placed the First State at the forefront of the banking industry.
High unemployment and record debt placed Delaware on the edge of economic disaster in the 1970s. All that changed thanks to one brilliant idea that set the stage for the First State’s economic resurgence.
Leaders from both political parties put aside their differences to pass the Financial Center Development Act, an investment that transformed our small state into a major hub for credit card giants and the financial services industry almost overnight.
Decades later, Delaware remains on solid financial ground with six straight years of surpluses, low unemployment and growing interest from companies looking to make a new home here in the Small Wonder.
My focus since being elected to the Delaware Senate has been on making sure that prosperity is shared by all who call Delaware home. To that end, we are leveraging economic justice to create the kind of targeted and intentional investments that can build generation wealth for families of color in the Three Rivers area that I represent.
More than just buzzwords, Opportunity LIVES Here defines the vision, mission and future of this initiative to transform the old cycles of poverty, blight and crime into an economically, culturally and socially thriving community.
Our work began with the enactment of historic restorative justice legislation that is providing second chances for thousands of neighbors through the creation of Delaware’s first adult expungement program and the expansion of Wilmington’s Downtown Development District, which is spurring private investment to a larger geographic area through an innovative rebate program.
Now, we are building on our progress by harnessing the power of the banking industry that once saved the State of Delaware to also help Black entrepreneurs turn their innovative startups into thriving businesses and engines of future economic prosperity.
Earlier this year, for instance, I worked with my colleagues in the Delaware General Assembly to create the Delaware Community Investment Venture Fund.
Seeded with up to $2.5 million from regulatory fees paid by the banking industry, this state-managed fund will provide much needed capital and other financial services to the black-owned business creating jobs in some of our most historically marginalized communities.
This new tool is designed to overcome the higher rates of rejection and lower loan amounts experienced by black-owned businesses, specifically because they are working to overcome the opportunities long denied people of color in some of our most poverty-stricken neighborhoods.
This groundbreaking legislation passed unanimously by the Delaware General Assembly will dovetail with two other economic development initiatives we have recently undertaken.
Through my position on the Joint Capital Improvement Committee, we were able to attract the Bronze Valley Venture Lab to the First State. This accelerator program is now providing entrepreneurially minded students from Delaware State University, one of the top three HBCU’s in the nation, with advice, advocacy and access to venture capital in the heart of Delaware’s minority-majority urban center.
As a part of our record-breaking investments in infrastructure, we also seeded our state’s leading Community Development Financial Institution with $3 million to establish the Northeast Wilmington Revitalization Fund, which has already provided flexible, low-interest loans to Black-owned childcare centers, residential developments, private business that collectively have created 100 jobs in one of Delaware’s most economically depressed communities.
Of course, none of these innovative and groundbreaking investments would mean much if the real-estate and commercial investors we are trying to reach did not know these programs were available or how to access them.
That is why I have partnered with the Riverfront Development Corporation, which oversaw one of the greatest economic development success stories in Delaware history with the complete transformation of what was once a barren industrial wasteland into 100 acres of high-rises, restaurants, businesses and cultural amenities.
Together, we are organizing the Opportunity LIVES Here Symposium on Wednesday, Nov. 1, to bring together national leaders renowned for their achievements in lifting communities out of stagnation and into promising futures to lead discussions on the goals, strategies and resources of this initiative.
While our work is far from complete, our progress is undeniable. And there is no doubt in my mind that the strategic investments we are making here in the Three Rivers area are just the beginning of our region’s next great success story.
State Sen. Darius Brown represents District 2, including New Castle, east Wilmington and Edgemoor.