On Wednesday, over 125 educators, administrators, business and non-profit leaders participated in the Vision Coalition’s Eighth Annual Conference on Education at Clayton Hall at the University of Delaware. The conference focused on how to best implement the recommendations Vision Coalition of Delaware’s Student Success 2025 – a 10-year plan to advance Delaware’s schools and education outcomes. Student Success 2025 is a multi-tiered plan developed through public collaboration and extensive state-wide engagement of community, student, business, nonprofit, and government stakeholders. The Student Success 2025 approach focuses on exploring personalizing learning for more students and improving career prep.
The conference also concentrated on how to address Delaware’s decades-old education funding model to integrate funding for schools that have high concentrations of poverty and provide additional resources for school districts at the state level for English Language Learners.
In addition to looking at funding, the conference looked at how to coordinate programs like the Success Pathways and Roads to Careers (SPaRC) initiative (a program spearheaded by United Way and the Delaware Business Roundtable’s Education Committee) with other school to career programs. Integrating programs like SPaRC into the Delaware education system will bring valuable workplace experiences to students in an effort to keep them engaged and to fully prepare them for work at Delaware businesses.
Fred Sears is a familiar name among members of the Delaware business community, most recently known for his 13 year tenure with the Delaware Community Foundation (DCF), Sears has accomplished a lot for the state of Delaware. Under his watch, the DCF has tripled its long-term charitable funds and increased assets under management to $285 million.
Sears is also a familiar face in the banking world where he worked for 38 years, most notably as President of Commerce Bank in Delaware.
Regardless of his intentions to retire at the end of the calendar year, Fred Sears will continue in his most comfortable role, serving the state he loves. He was recently appointed Chair of the Expenditure Review Commission by Governor Jack Markell and will continue to serve on at least nine or ten of the current boards and commissions he is currently on.
Delaware Business (DB) had the chance to catch up with Mr. Sears with a few questions and a trip back in time for a look at his illustrious career.
DB: Where are you from?
FS: I was born in Delaware in what used to be known as Wilmington Hospital, now a part of Christiana Care Health System. My family lived across the river from the Brandywine Zoo; my mother walked home with me from the hospital. My father was in the military in WWII so he was not around at the time. My education was through Mt. Pleasant elementary school, Alfred I. DuPont junior high and Wilmington Friends for high school. I continued at the University of Delaware for my under graduate and graduate degrees so I never ventured far from Wilmington.
In the 1800s my mother’s family had livery stores selling horse and carriage and agriculture supplies at the corner of Front and Orange, now Martin Luther King and Orange. We had one of the first car dealerships in the area on N. Market Street in the 1920s
My great uncle was a city councilman. I did not find that out until I became a councilman in Wilmington 1976. My wife was born in Delaware and both of our parents were born in Delaware. I can actually trace my mother’s side of the family in Delaware back to the mid 1700’s.
DB: How did your career start?
FS: I majored in business at the University of Delaware. I didn’t have a job when I graduated in 1964, but my father encouraged me to apply to the local banks.
Fortunately, Delaware Trust was looking to hire a management trainee with a business degree and I applied at the right time. After 18 years with Delaware Trust and becoming the bank’s first VP of Business Development, I moved to Wilmington Trust in a similar position, and then vice president of customer service-related products at Beneficial National Bank. My banking career culminated with my job at Commerce Bank as Delaware Market President.
DB: What kind of work were you involved with when you worked for the city of Wilmington?
FS: My good friend, Mayor Tom Maloney, asked me to take a leave of absence from the bank to serve as Director of Finance and later as Director of Economic Development from 1973-76. I followed up by running for City Council and served two terms from 1976 to 1984.
I continued working with the City on a volunteer basis after I left Council serving as chair of the Downtown Wilmington Improvement Corporation, the Wilmington Economic Development Corporation and the Wilmington Waterways Commission. I continue to serve today as chair of the Wilmington Economic Financial Advisory Council and as treasurer of the Wilmington Housing Partnership.
DB: How did you transition into the nonprofit world?
FS: Jim Gilliam Jr. called me while I was sitting in my office and said “I have a job for you.” I said “Jim, I already have a job, you are calling me at my office and you are a customer of mine.” He asked me to run the Delaware Community Foundation. I was hesitant at the time but accepted it after some serious contemplation. I called my good friend Peter Morrow, he said “Do it, Fred.” Jim teamed up with other DCF board leaders, Judy Hoopes and Don Kirtley and they convinced me to make the move.
What’s so great about working at the Delaware Community Foundation is that I am still able to do all the volunteer work I enjoy. In addition to the Expenditure Review Commission I also serve on the State Council for Development and the Port of Wilmington boards along with Christiana Care, Leadership Delaware, United Way, Rodel Foundation, Beau Biden Foundation and DANA boards of directors and as an advisor to TD Bank and Fraunhofer USA.
I’m privileged to work with a great staff and outstanding committed board of directors at the DCF.
DB: What would you say was your favorite project?
FS: It really is difficult to pick, but one of my favorites was starting the Next Generation Board. We had some young adults in their early to mid-thirties, they wanted to get involved with the community but did not know how to do it. The Board has about 35-40 members, they have their own fundraisers and their own grant making. They really know how to run their own foundation. One of them left to become head of Saint Michael’s, another is on the board of the Opera House and one of them is on the Girls on the Run Board. They do site visits with the applicants and have had the opportunity to learn about Delaware. They said “Wow Mr. Sears, we went to this orphanage in Delaware, we didn’t even know there was one here.”
Every three years they pick a different funding focus. In past years they have focused on infant mortality, after school programs for kids at risk, childhood obesity but currently their focus is on STEM programs. We are on our fourth chair, his name is David Arthur. Dave works at the University of Delaware.
Keep an open mind, always look for opportunities.
DB: As I’m sure you know, there are many young professionals out there that look up to you. What kind of advice would you give?
FS: Keep an open mind, always look for opportunities. Part of what I’ve accomplished has happened because I’ve been out there involved in the community. Running golf tournaments, dinners and breakfasts, you can see who’s committed and who you can count on. You can pick and choose what you really want to do, what makes you feel good about life. I loved being a banker for many years but this job is unbelievable. I’ve found the secret that so many people look for. That secret is really enjoying work, not being dragged to work, but waking up looking forward to going to work.
Sometimes it is hard on the home front because I pretty much start every day with an 8am breakfast meeting and my day is not usually over until 7p.m. or 8 pm.
DB: Anything else?
FS: It was 1976 when I was elected to city council and we got married in 1977. Those first eight years of our marriage I served on council. We met every Thursday from 7 p.m. to 10 .p.m . The reporters would call me at home after the meetings and ask for comments. IT wasn’t the best way to start a marriage and raise young children but Jo Ann has always been supportive. I have to say it does help that we have the same political persuasion.
DB: What are grateful to have more time for during retirement?
FS: No real plans. Maybe take a few weeks off and do some soul searching about how much and where I want to continue to be involved in the community. I’m definitely not going anywhere and I intend to stay involved with the community at a level where I can be most helpful while still making more time for my wife and grandchildren.
Fred C. Sears II has been President and CEO of the Delaware Community Foundation since December 2002. Through his work with the Foundation, he encourages individuals, businesses and organizations to engage in long-term charitable giving to improve the statewide community, now and in the future. Fred has served as a community leader in the greater Wilmington area and with organizations serving residents throughout Delaware for over forty-five years.
Last week, government affairs professionals representing clients in Delaware gathered for the State Chamber’s Annual Government Affairs retreat. During the conference presentations were given by University of Delaware Center for Demographics professor Ed Ratledge, Office of Management and budget director Ann Visalli, and State treasurer Ken Simpler. All three had a similar message—Delaware faces some tough challenges, but is also seeing some positive successes along the way.
Most notable is Delaware’s aging population that is continuing to strain both the State’s health care infrastructure network, and for those receiving Medicaid, straining the State’s budget. Close to 40% of all Delawareans receive some measure of state aid, either through Medicaid, or as part of the state employee system, and year over year increases ($81 million), are a large part of the expected $150 million budget shortfall expected for 2016.
In addition to an aging population, new births are significantly down, and the next generation of workers are much lower in terms of overall numbers of the Boomer generation, who are aging out of the workforce and will require health care and other services.
Of other interest was speculation on how JFC members plan to fill that $150 million budget gap, and so far focus is on a combination of raising corporate income tax and franchise tax rates—something the State Chamber has warned will stifle business growth and relocation in the Delaware. The next legislative session will be a roller coaster ride for sure as budget discussions heat up.
As for good news, JP Morgan Chase announced they plan to create 1800 jobs over the next 4 years to fill their newly revamped Delaware Tech Center located on property purchased from AstraZeneca. Other large employers are evaluating their presence in Delaware, with hopeful signs of both staying and growing their workforce.
There is good news to be had, and it is important to focus on it. It is just as important to make sure the State is making the right decisions to capitalize on the growth opportunities available, and to create an environment to foster economic growth. State Chamber members can expect vigorous discussion coming from Dover on how best to reach this goal, and they can count on the State Chamber to be in the middle of it all advocating for its members.
by James DeChene
Principal for a Day week at the State Chamber happens every year in Mid-October. Representatives from the business community, including Chamber staff, pick a school to attend for the day in an effort to see how Delaware children are being educated, and to provide a bit of feedback on the latest skills needed and career paths available to graduates.
This year Chamber President Rich Heffron chose Archmere Academy and I chose Newark Charter. What we saw gave us hope that Delaware students have access to a quality education, and that opportunity exists in both private and public school settings.
At Newark Charter, I toured all three of their buildings, spanning K-11 (12th grade will be added next year). Inside each classroom I saw not just the typical English and Math taught, but just as, if not more importantly, was the teaching of critical thinking—the foundation of why a concept was being applied instead of rote memorization. This approach was used for students across the academic spectrum, from those enrolled with Down’s Syndrome, those with more generic special education needs, all the way through those who will go on to excel at higher education institutions. Interspersed with conversations on the adoption of Common Core and the subsequent Smarter Balanced Assessment, I was given a feel for many of the challenges faced by our educators in ensuring students are learning the necessary skills to become successful as adults and in their careers.
Rich Heffron, who has been Principal at schools across the state since the program’s inception in 1993 saw a similar approach this year at Archmere Academy. The Academy’s focus is on making its graduates prepared for college interweaving the Catholic faith as its backbone including a focus on community service. Instead of the Common Core, though teaching critical thinking is an underlying theme as at Newark Charter, the Academy is able to properly prepare its students for life beyond high school. The main obvious difference is that there is a higher parental involvement threshold being met when compared to many of the underperforming schools across the state.
Not as prevalent at Newark Charter or at Archmere, but felt there nonetheless, is the transient nature of student populations, the difficulty in teaching kids that are forced to travel substantial distances out of their neighborhood into their assigned school, the difficulty in recruiting and retaining teachers—all have a role in why Delaware’s record on education is poor. Solving these problems is not easy, and not one the Chamber can do alone, but we are committed to participating in the discussion and offering suggestions on how to make sure Delaware students are prepared for their futur
by Rana Fayez
Maj. gen. Francis Vavala is the longest serving adj. gen. in the United States and has served under three different governors for the past 16 years. Delaware Business got the chance to sit down with maj. gen. Francis Vavala to get to know the man behind the uniform.
DB: How long have you been with the Delaware National Guard?
MGV: It feels like forever, I was a “guard brat” growing up. My father was a World War II veteran of the U.S. Army. He came back as master sergeant and used the G.I. Bill to go to college, where he received a degree in economics from Wharton School of Business. He continued on to work for the State and joined the Delaware National Guard about the time I was born in 1947. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Delaware National Guard, which began his career and effectively my career as well. As a kid I would follow him around everywhere, he would take me to play at the armories.
I can remember the National Guard in the in the 1950s and beyond, my father introduced me to the organization as it was a rite of passage for me to join. He retired as a colonel. In 1967, I joined and served for three years as an enlisted soldier. In 1969, I went to officer candidate school, graduated and received my commission in June of 1970. My total official service is 48 years. In reality, it probably goes back to almost 60 years.
DB: At what moment did you decide you wanted to be a member of the National Guard?
MGV: That’s difficult to determine because it was ingrained, it was expected. It just happened. It was a rite of passage. Initially, I never thought that my career would span 48 plus years, when I first joined the organization it was a six year term for the enlisted people. I thought I would serve the time I signed up for and leave soon after, but I stayed. It might be my interpretation of the old Army phrase, “be all that you can be” and went to officer candidate school. You catch that fire and desire to exceed expectations and be all that you can be. Be the best platoon leader, be the company commander. You do everything you can. But the real important thing about this is the story shouldn’t focus on me, it’s not about me. It’s larger than life. It’s about service, it’s about the Delaware National Guard. It’s about the young people that sit in these seats right here, these great Americans. They inspired me, they keep the old man going. They tolerate me and that really helps to motivate and continue to drive me.
All of us do all that we can every day to make the Delaware National Guard better. We’ve done a lot to make the Delaware National Guard more visible and valued in the State and in our local communities because our folks willingly get out there and they’re woven into the fabric of our community, they’re visible and people appreciate it. Today’s National Guard unlike the one I remember. Post-WWII up to Desert Storm, the National Guard was a strategic reserve. Even then, it was not as equipped as its strategic counterparts. We used to get a lot of antiquated hand- me-downs and we worked with what we had. In our case, the Army and Navy realized they couldn’t complete Desert Storm without us. We started to get the same type of training and equipment as our counterparts. After 9/11 the country realized that there was no way they can condone this multifaceted asymmetric war that we were involved in without the men and women of our national guard. That became a new-found training and equipment, a new-found respect for our formations. It’s all because the great job our men and women have done since 9/11.
Currently, we have the best equipped, best trained and most veteran force we have ever had in our National Guard. We are the hometown force with the global reach. The fact of the matter, this is what our citizens both at the local and national level, we do it at a fraction of the cost that our counterparts do. We do not operate out of huge facilities with golf courses and bowling alleys. We operate out of a small compact base without a lot of accouterments, we have the ability to serve to meet the nation’s needs. We live and we work in the local community. We’re a part of your church group, your exercise group. You only use us when you need us, so you’re only paying for it on an active basis when the country calls.
We have that two-fold mission to fight the nation’s wars overseas and under a state emergency in Delaware. We report directly to the Governor, he can activate the National Guard for a national emergency.
We are the hometown force with the global reach.
The fact that there’s an opportunity here in the guard to serve your state and nation and to pursue a career in your field in whatever you desire is amazing. Where else can you serve your nation and your state, wear the uniform on the weekends and then go back to the civilian sector? You come out and you’re trained, you bring the great skills you’ve acquired in the civilian sector to benefit you while you’re in uniform. There’s military skill and there’s also ancillary skills that can be combined here and overseas. I’m proud to be a guardsman. Best organization in the world.
DB: What was your most defining moment?
MGV: I am three ranks higher than I ever thought I would be. My appointment as the adj. gen. and promotion to maj. gen. is pretty major, that would probably have to be the big meaningful moment. Prior to that was the decision to become an officer and get a commission.
DB: What is your favorite moment in your career so far?
MGV: The real underscoring of my career was rising to the command level, it was one of those things that I really enjoyed being a staff officer. Being a platoon leader and such. The higher up you go, the less interactions you have with your staff. It comes with the job, you try to get out as much as you can, but you’re insulated. Even when you go out, you’re shown what people want you to see, not so much what you need to see. It’s the nature of the position that you become more insulated and detached. The job pulls you elsewhere I guess. Wherever I am, I make sure I’m representing the National Guard in the best way possible.
The National Guard has the responsibility of both the nation and state, we’re more grassroots than our counterparts. We’re more connected and that makes us so much more valuable and successful in emergency situations in the state. We know the first line of emergency responders by name, they know us and have confidence in us. It makes us much more effective to be able to assist the state because of the relationships and networks we build.
DB: If you could give advice to someone who wants to follow your footsteps, what would you say?
MGV: If you seriously want to serve your country and your state and you’re not sure of how you want to do it, you want to pursue a civilian career, it’s the best possible job in America. Any of us in uniform are always glad to talk to anyone about service in uniform. All the benefits that come with military service are available to all the members of the National Guard with Army and Air. Young people don’t always look at retirement, but I can tell you that you decide to make a career out of the military service with the guard, you have healthcare opportunities, you have educational opportunities, there are so many benefits that are associated with our service that just are not as available as they used to be in corporate America. We have the best plans.
Never did I think back in 1967 I’d still be here in 2015 serving the National Guard of Delaware. It ain’t about me; it’s about this great organization.
by Ken Anderson
The Delaware Economic Development Office (DEDO) has recently partnered with One Million by One Million (1M/1M), a global, virtual accelerator. Together, DEDO and 1M/1M will provide wider resources and deeper support to Delaware entrepreneurs.
Founded by Silicon Valley-based serial entrepreneur, Sramana Mitra, 1M/1M’s Premium Program offers a comprehensive online curriculum, online mentoring and strategy consulting, virtual introductions to customers and channel partners. If deemed fundable, the business is introduced to investors.
Why this partnership?
First, not all serious entrepreneurs can participate in a physical, brick and mortar, incubator/accelerator. Second, 1M/1M’s totally, virtual, global incubator retains some of the best entrepreneurial education, mentorship and customer development support available, including that found in physical locations. Third, this is a valuable tool for serious entrepreneurs who are working full- and part-time jobs while developing, building and growing their entrepreneurial dreams during off hours.
After researching program for more than a year, DEDO determined that 1M/1M is a viable, highly-credible, global and totally virtual opportunity for Delaware’s entrepreneurs. Offering this unique support and mentorship program allows entrepreneurs to flexibility to continue to bootstrap their businesses while earning a paycheck.
During DEDO’s application process, a selection committee will review applications and select serious entrepreneurial businesses to participate in 1M/1M’s Premium Program. The rolling selection process will continue until 10 entrepreneurs have been selected.
As part of this partnership, DEDO will utilize funds designated for entrepreneurial initiatives to cover the $1,000 premium membership fee for 10 Delaware-based entrepreneurs. The agency will track the participant’s progress quarterly during the one year program.
Interested entrepreneurs are invited to apply online, visit http://de.gov/59e
by James DeChene
Last week, Gov. Jack Markell, in conjunction with the Joint Military Affairs Committee, a group comprised of members of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce and the New Castle County Chamber of Commerce, unveiled a plaque honoring the first Delaware Warrior Friendly Business Award winners. Displayed prominently in the Governor’s Wilmington office, the award will be updated each year as new winners are announced.
Phoenix Restoration, from Newport won the Small Employer category and Christiana Care Health System won the Large Employercategory for their ongoing support of the men and women who serve the state and nation.
The employers were honored in July at the Delaware Employer Support of the Guard and Reserve (DE ESGR) Annual Awards Recognition Banquet at the Chase Center on the Riverfront in Wilmington.
For more information on the Joint Military Affairs Committee, or for information on the award nomination process, contact James DeChene at firstname.lastname@example.org.
by James DeChene
May you live in interesting times…
If you needed evidence of how the world has changed look no further than to the announcement of Ellen Kullman’s retirement as proof. That one event has put in motion discussions reminiscent of when MBNA was in transition, and coupled with the uncertainty surrounding the future of Chemours, tongues are certainly wagging. The positive in all this is the opportunity to reevaluate how Delaware can compete to bring and to keep businesses in Delaware. Exercises like that have begun as task forces are evaluating state spending and revenues, tax policy and other incentives that can help create the next round of growth in the state.
Delaware needs to continue to position itself as a place where businesses incorporate, relocate, and expand. There has been some good news on this front. Calpine recently opened the Garrison Energy Center in Dover, a 300 mega-watt generating facility helping to bring lower cost energy downstate, with the ability to expand on their current site in the future. Right next door to Calpine, German floor material manufacture Uzin Utz recently opened their doors, and Incyte in Wilmington announced 400 jobs coming to Delaware. Sunoco is planning a $3 billion reinvestment into its Marcus Hook facility, and if Delaware positions itself, the state may see some of that investment on the 40 acres that crosses into Delaware.
However, all of these gains and projections rest on the head of a pin. Speculation and rumor have already started as to the ways the General Assembly plans to balance the FY 2017 budget. Proposals to raise the graduated personal income tax by 13% on top earners, raise the franchise tax, increase gross receipts tax—all have a negative impact on businesses’ decisions to located and expand in Delaware at a time when we can least afford it. The Delaware State Chamber of Commerce is committed to promoting policy and legislation focused on economic growth and will continue to be the voice of Delaware business in Dover working to ensure a bright future for Delaware and its citizens.
James DeChene is the Chamber's Senior Vice President of Government Affairs.