Dover: Economy

Major Industries and Commercial Activity

Dover, the second largest city in the state, is a center of government, commerce, and industry for Central Delaware. Long involved in agricultural trade, the city is home to Kraft Foods and Procter & Gamble facilities. Kraft produces gelatin, puddings desserts, rice, and other food items at its 121-acre site. Procter & Gamble's Dover plant produces disposable wet wipe paper products at a 546,000 square foot site it acquired in 1996. Mrs. K's Salsa distributes home-style salsa in the area as well as shipping it nationwide. Since the early 1980s, the number of farms in the area has decreased including a drop from 767 in 1997 to 721 in 2002, according to the most recent Census of Agriculture report from the National Agricultural Statistics Service. Further, the number of acres under cultivation, which had remained relatively stable despite the loss of farms, also suffered a decline of about 10,000 acres from 1997 to 2002 (about 185,000 acres). Field crops in Kent County have a market value of approximately $54 million (from $62.6 million in 1997), and the once-growing broiler chicken industry witnessed a reduction in farms down from 133 in 1997 to 121 in 2002.

Playtex Apparel, Inc. and Playtex Products, Inc. manufacture and distribute intimate apparel as well as personal care items. Foods and food items produced in Dover include soft drinks, dairy products, corn, wheat, fruits and vegetables, and dry and canned goods. Major manufacturers include PPG Industries, which produces paint products; Eagle Group, a leading maker of metal files and storage cabinets and related items; Hirsch Industries, a leading manufacturer of consumer durables such as file cabinets; Reichold Inc., a producer of coatings, polyesters, emulsions, and adhesives; and Sunroc Corporation, which produces water coolers and drinking fountains. Refrigerators, brick, aerospace equipment, synthetic polymers and adhesives, and chemicals are also made in Dover.

Dover Air Force Base has a substantial economic impact on the local economy totaling more than $331 million per year. The base operates the largest aerial port facility on the East Coast, and serves as a focal point for military cargo movement to Europe and the Middle East. Its mechanized-computerized cargo handling arrangement makes possible the processing of up to 1,200 tons of cargo during a 24-hour period. The air base's military and civilian payroll of nearly $170 million is mostly pumped back into the local economy.

Tourism is a growing industry in Dover and Kent County. Because dollars often go a lot further in Dover due to the absence of sales tax, visitors from nearby states such as New York and New Jersey have been coming more often and staying longer in recent years. The addition of slot machines at the horse racing tracks in Dover, Harrington, and Wilmington brings in even more visitors. Ticket sales at the local NASCAR races, as well as related industries such as the restaurants and hotel/motel businesses, have a $47 million impact on Dover's economy.

Items and goods produced: foodstuffs, paper products, latex paint, beverages, home appliances, textiles, foundry works, and feed

Incentive Programs—New and Existing Companies

The Central Delaware Economic Development Council assists companies with basic information, building and site selection, and dealing with local and state government agencies.

State programs

The state of Delaware has no general sales tax, no unitary tax, no fixtures tax, and no personal property or inventory tax. The Small Business Administration Section 504 Program offers long-term fixed assets financing at fixed rates for projects with an average net income of less than $2.5 million, which typically involve 50 percent funding from a private lender, 40 percent from the Delaware Development Corporation, and 10 percent from the business. The Delaware Economic Development Office offers assistance in loan packaging by utilizing existing state and federal programs, including Industrial Revenue Bond Financing, various bridge grants and loans, and Small Business Administration Assistance.

The state of Delaware has created incentives for financial institutions through the passage of the Financial Center Development Act in 1981, by which banks in certain circumstances receive a declining rate of taxation; the Consumer Credit Bank Act in the early 1980s, which gives financial benefits to smaller banks locating operations in the state; and the International Banking Act.

Local programs

In 1999 Kent County implemented a development incentive fund and also provides a 10-year property tax incentive program available for targeted industries. The Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce offers existing businesses consulting assistance and counseling services by retired executives.

Job training programs

The Delaware Economic Development Office custom designs and operates training programs on a shared or no-cost basis to be determined individually. Delaware Technical & Community College provides startup and upgrading programs tailored to the needs of new and existing industries through its IT Learning Center.

Development Projects

According to local analysts, Dover's recent population growth is caused by local business expansion and the growth of Dover Air Force Base. The construction of Kent County's Aeropark, an 115-acre industrial park adjacent to the base, began in the mid-1990s to house Sunroc, a water cooler manufacturer. The Aeropark project was greatly enhanced by the Air Force's granting of two military runways to accommodate Aeropark businesses. However, the civilian air terminal has been indefinitely shut down due to security concerns following the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks.

Retail firms in the area are also expanding, as evidenced by the addition in the 1990s of new shopping centers and megastores such as Wal-Mart, Sam's Club, and Lowe's. The Dover Mall underwent a $500,000 renovation that was completed in 1997 and includes over 100 different retail shops including Sears, Old Navy, and JC Penney. The proliferation of newer chain eateries is represented by Applebee's, Red Lobster, Olive Garden, and Boston Market restaurants. There also has been a mushrooming of housing developments in West Dover, including such complexes as the Carlisle Villages, the Greens, and The Village of Westover. The introduction of slot machine gambling in 1995 prompted the Dover Downs facility to undergo expansions that concluded in March 2004 increasing the size to 91,000 square feet with 2,500 machines.

Economic Development Information: Central Delaware Economic Development Council, 435 N. Dupont Hwy, PO Box 576, Dover, DE 19901; telephone (302) 678-0892; fax (302)678-0189; email Delaware Economic Development Office, 99 Kings Hwy., Dover, DE 19901; telephone (302) 739-4271; fax (302) 739-5749.

Commercial Shipping

Dover has four motor freight carriers and is served by Conrail. The Port of Wilmington, 40 miles north, provides direct access to I-495, and both Conrail and CSX railroads serve the terminal with rail sidings viable at most warehouse facilities at the port. In the late 1990s, the port expanded its docking area to handle both larger ships and a greater number of ships.

Labor Force and Employment Outlook

Kent County boasts an available and trainable labor force and a pool of skilled labor with an excellent work ethic. Between 1970 and 2000, the county's labor force more than doubled while the number of new companies increased by more than 10 percent in a decade. In November 2004 the Milken Institute, a nonpartisan and nonprofit research organization, ranked Dover as fourth on their "Best Performing Cities: Small Cities List" which marked an improvement from the 29th position it occupied in 2003. The institute attributed this to the opening of a Wal-Mart distribution center, in addition to which the Dover Air Force Base's future appears stable. Also, a study by the American City Business Journals in 2004 named the Dover metropolitan area as the "Hottest Market in the East for Job Creation" and second in the nation only behind Las Vegas. In 2004 Delaware's economy marked its return to the Corporation for Enterprise Development's (CFED) ratings list that grades the best states in the nation on a variety of economic factors. Compared to other states, Delaware is among the top five in the nation, earning As and Bs in the major grading categories by the nationally-recognized economic research organization. For seven consecutive years prior to 2000, personal and business taxes were cut in Delaware.

The 1999 purchase by the city of Dover of 385-plus acres, known as the Garrison Oak Technology Park, provides Kent County with the potential for significant future job growth in manufacturing, research and development, and high-technology industry. In addition, the proposed High-Technology Business Incubator, to be located at Delaware State University, will provide additional future job and company growth potential although construction was delayed until 2005 due to economic concerns after a 2002 groundbreaking.

The following is a summary of data regarding the Dover metropolitan area labor force, 2003 annual averages.

Size of nonagricultural labor force: 58,700

Number of workers employed in . . .

construction and mining: 3,000

manufacturing: 4,900

trade, transportation, and utilities: 10,800

information: 700

financial activities: 2,600

professional and business services: 3,700

educational and health services: 7,100

leisure and hospitality: 6,700

other services: 2,200

government: 17,200

Average hourly earnings of production workers employed in manufacturing: $16.90

Unemployment rate: 2.7% (November 2004)

Dover: Economy

Largest employers Number of employees
Dover Air Force Base 8,595 total: 5,715 (military) 1,090 (civilian) 1,790 (reserves)
Bayhealth Medical Center (includes Kent General Hospital and Milford Memorial Hospital) 2,527
Dover Downs 1,200
Delaware State University 1,150
Playtex Products, Inc. 1,105
Capital School District 809
Kraft Foods 621
Bank of America 600
Aetna U.S. Healthcare 525
City of Dover 375
Procter and Gamble 327

Cost of Living

As of 2000, Dover had a cost of living slightly above the national average, but the local tax burden is competitive with most other states.

The following is a summary of data regarding several key cost of living factors for the Dover area.

1999 (4th Quarter) ACCRA Average House Price: $141,874

2000 (4th Quarter) ACCRA Cost of Living Index: 104.2 (U.S. average = 100.0)

State income tax rate: Ranges from 2.2% to 5.95%

State sales tax rate: None

Local income tax rate: None

Local sales tax rate: None

Property tax rate: $0.41 per $100.00 of assessed fair market value

Economic Information: Central Delaware Chamber of Commerce, 435 N. Dupont Hwy, Dover, DE 19901; telephone (302) 678-0892; fax (302)678-0189; email