By James DeChene, Armitage DeChene & Associates
The General Assembly continues its work meeting virtually. This week was relatively quiet with the introduction of HB166, Elevate Delaware. This bill builds on State Chamber efforts related to workforce training focusing on decreasing the skills gap and positioning Delawareans for new careers.
In addition, this week saw SB12, the SEED+ bill, pass the Senate. This bill increases eligibility for SEED scholarships and funding for Delawareans to attend Delaware Tech, even if they are not recently graduated from high school. SB95 also passed the Senate, which increases the Inspire scholarship for Delaware State University.
Discussions continue around pending legislation like Paid Family Leave (for more info, or to give feedback, contact Tyler Micik), and next week will be the Chamber’s webinar on marijuana legalization featuring representatives from the Association of Washington Business, and SAM (Smart Approaches to Marijuana) providing feedback on the impact marijuana legalization has had on employers in other states. To register, click here.
Next week, the General Assembly is in recess, but the Bond Committee will meet.
The following week is the State Chamber’s Small Business Day in Dover 2-day virtual event. Many bills remain to be acted on, including marijuana legalization, increasing Delaware’s minimum wage, and more. Small Business Day is a great opportunity for you to meet with your elected officials to let them know the impact these bills will have on your business and your employees.
By James DeChene
Armitage DeChene & Associates
Last March the General Assembly went into recess prior to the annual Joint Finance Committee meeting break. Amid the “See you in six weeks” goodbyes were a handful of pending bills and the beginning discussions around seemingly mundane things like what the rest of session would look like and starting to plan the Chamber’s End-of-Session Brunch, Manufacturing Day, and Small Business Day in Dover events. Then came COVID-19, which, as we all know now, would go on to upend virtually every aspect of our lives, making the mundane a thing of the past.
Along the way those events would eventually take place, virtually. So would an election, bringing to Dover a large, new crop of legislators excited to represent their constituents after a campaign like no other. In furtherance of the “new normal” (I, like many of you, am so tired of that term), the new General Assembly would continue to meet virtually, swearing in of new legislators would be held via Zoom, and we’ve all gotten to navigate session days and committee meetings with the inevitable plea of “Can you hear me?”.
One aspect I find myself sorely missing (and for those who know me, the irony on this is thick like pancake syrup) is the personal interactions at Legislative Hall--not just between lobbyists and legislators, but for the general public and for legislators to make their collegial relationships stronger as well. This new normal is certainly different. Trying to make eye contact during a meeting, but not sure if you should be looking at the camera or at the screen in order to see how the meeting is going is but one change, insignificant as it may seem.
The new normal has also brought with it legislation that will impact State Chamber members in new and interesting ways. There are certainly bills that are introduced on a regular basis, like minimum wage, personal income tax changes, and bills that impact human resources or consumer protections, like data privacy. But there are also bills that are more reflective of what is happening in states around us, and nationwide. Marijuana legalization, environmental justice related to legacy business activities, and changing the nature of what has traditionally been the role of the employer--such as offering retirement plans, which will potentially be offered by government--are each small examples of what this year and next will bring.
Throughout this year, if there’s one lesson I’ve learned it is how important it is for small- and medium-sized employers in Delaware to educate their elected officials about themselves. There are approximately 57,000 licensed businesses in Delaware, and an estimated 825 have 50 or more employees. The remaining 56,000-plus have employees that choose to work for them and are engaged in meaningful careers important for Delaware’s future. The stories of how employers became creative to keep their workforce employed over the last year, offered training opportunities, provided benefits, and pivoted to new economic avenues to keep the lights on are all important for legislators to hear in a time where those stories are drowned out by the other side.
One of the State Chamber’s main responsibilities to its members is advocacy, helping employers share these stories. We curate events throughout the year, like Small Business Day in Dover each May, and work with individual members to connect them with their elected officials and showcase the good work being done across Delaware. No one is as good a storyteller about your business and successes than you.
By Tyler Micik
The General Assembly returned this week from Easter Break. Of note was SB15, an increase in Delaware's minimum wage, which was heard in the House Economic Development Committee on Wednesday. The bill would increase the minimum wage to be paid in the state to $10.50/hr effective January 1, 2022, with yearly increases reaching $15/hr by 2025.
The reality of this proposal is that it may in fact hurt the people its intended to help. Many businesses, especially small business, have been disproportionately impacted by the pandemic and are still struggling to survive or recover. An increase in the minimum wage could cause some employers to hire fewer employees, transition to automation and, in some extreme cases, close their doors permanently. Instead, we should be supporting programs like Forward Delaware. These programs help Delawareans acquire tangible skills employers need and increases their opportunity for upward mobility. Following a three-hour hearing the bill was released from committee in an 8-5 vote and now heads to the House Appropriations Committee.
The Partnership, Inc. is the 501(c)(3) affiliate of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce. Its mission is to foster private sector involvement in workforce development to attract, develop, and retain intellectual capital that will serve as the future workforce for Delaware businesses.
Last month, the State Chamber announced the addition of Intern Delaware under its umbrella, which led to the creation of the program manager position. We are happy to welcome Alexis Williams to the team! She will manage The Partnership's four flagship programs: Intern Delaware, Superstars in Education, Delaware Principal for a Day, and the Delaware Young Professionals Network.
GET TO KNOW ALEXIS:
Where are you from?
I was born and raised in Clayton, Delaware.
That means we need to ask what high school did you go to?
I graduated from Smyrna High School. Go Eagles!
What excites you most about this position?
I grew up in a family of educators and saw first-hand how they played a key role in equipping students with the knowledge and skills to become contributing members of their communities. My personal experience going through Delaware’s public school system combined with my master’s degree in student affairs in higher education, as well as being a young professional myself, makes me the perfect fit for this role as program manager. I look forward to building relationships with Delaware’s business community and connecting employers with young talent, and vice versa!
One of the programs you will be responsible for is Intern Delaware. What was your favorite internship and why?
I interned for the Greater Reading Chamber Alliance in 2018. I had two consecutive internships, one with the director of events and one with the Women2Women program. At that time, I didn't truly know what direction I wanted to go towards when it came to my career. My time at the chamber was invaluable because I met so many people and learned about so many businesses — that experience really shaped my career and time in school. It also led me to this position!
What guiding principles or values do you apply to your work?
Two important guiding principles that I practice regularly are empathy and the concept of meeting people where they are. One never truly knows what another person is going through, especially now during a pandemic. I learned about intersectionality a few years ago — a concept surrounding the idea that everyone has their own journey and identities and faces unique challenges. Empathy and trying to understand someone else’s perspective is crucial in my work. Along the same lines, I try to meet people where they are. We all come from different backgrounds with varied experiences that inform our daily lives. As best as I can, I try to level-set and move forward from that point instead of assuming that everyone is always on the same page.
Best leadership advice you've received.
There is no singular best way to lead. In a leadership class I took in grad school, we often outlined examples and types of leaders, and I was inundated with models of what is considered a “good leader.” I concluded that leaders don’t always fit into boxes or categories. Leaders are adaptable, responsive, and reflective.
Do you have a favorite quote?
I have two:
“The world can only thrive when people know what they’re talking about. Find the thing that makes you want to know what you’re talking about. Then talk about it.” - Ruth Chang
“Be fearless in pursuit of what sets your soul on fire.”
I love both of these quotes. I would describe myself as passionately curious. I get excited about projects, I love learning new things, and I am grateful to have the opportunity through The Partnership to be passionately curious about education, opportunities, and workforce development in Delaware.
What do you love most about Delaware?
I love how small, yet big Delaware can be at the same time. Whenever I go somewhere, I'm likely to not only run into someone I know but also meet someone new. I love how connected the community is!
Do you have a favorite Delaware spot?
I’ll give a favorite spot in each county! In Kent County, I love Big Oak Park. I’ve spent a lot of time there over the years having picnics with my younger sister, walking the trails, and even watching my grandfather play baseball. In Sussex County, I most often find myself visiting Cape Henlopen State Park. The beach, the trails, the historic buildings — they’re all great. Lastly, in New Castle County, my favorite spot is Middletown as a whole. I love all the places to shop, eat, and explore!
Give us your top three books or podcasts.
By Tyler Micik
The Small Business Alliance (SBA) met earlier this week to discuss several bills that will have an impact on small businesses. Among these proposals are SB15, which would increase the minimum wage and HB150, which would legalize recreational marijuana.
The State Chamber believes that while an increase in the minimum wage is well intended, it’s going to harm the very people its intended to help. Not to mention it comes at a time when small businesses are still struggling to recover from the pandemic. Instead, members of the General Assembly should be supporting and promoting programs, like Forward Delaware, that can provide Delawareans with the tangible skills needed to advance their careers.
SBA committee members expressed concern over the legalization of marijuana without employer protections from liability, a standardized test for impairment, and a certifiable and agreed upon level of measuring what constitutes impairment.
Also this week, members from the State Chamber’s HR committee met with Senator Sarah McBride to learn about her proposal for Paid Family and Medical Leave. While a bill has not been introduced, Senator McBride has drafted a bill and is looking for feedback from the business community.
The State Chamber is holding its 6th Annual Small Business Day virtually on May 12-13 to discuss these policies and others. To find out more about these policy items and others that have been introduced this session, or to join a committee and engage in conversations that help shape Delaware’s future, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
By James DeChene, Armitage DeChene & Associates
This week was relatively quiet for legislation impacting the business community. Of note was the House passage of HB200, the Clean Water bill. It provides significant investment in water infrastructure projects throughout Delaware, including addressing flooding and sewer issues and increasing Delaware’s clean water supply. The State Chamber has been an advocate for this legislation as it has appeared in various forms over the last few years. We are pleased with its passage. It now goes on to the Senate.
The General Assembly is now on Easter Break and will return April 20. The minimum wage bill (SB15) will be heard in the House Economic Development committee that week.