Delaware Governor Jack Markell: An Inside Peek Into His Politics, Personality, and His Future In (or Out of) Office
Heavy hitter: Jack Markell racked up early victories as governor, but he’s taken some tough shots of late. Could the likable leader have his sights set on an even bigger prize?
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Things went swimmingly at first, with officials from Fisker, the Markell administration and the United Auto Workers meeting frequently. Then expected federal funds failed to materialize, other problems developed, and Fisker halted operations in April 2012.
Insisting the deal is not dead, Markell says Fisker is “seeking a strategic partner. We’re in touch with them all the time.”
Others have written off the project as a calculated risk that failed. Says John Flaherty, a lobbyist and president of the Delaware Coalition for Open Government, “I’m pretty impressed with Markell, but Fisker was his biggest failure.”
The roller-coaster ride continued for the Markell-Levin tag team when Valero shut down the Delaware City Refinery in November 2009, costing the state hundreds of jobs and millions of dollars in tax revenues. Undaunted, the two veteran businessmen (Levin is former president and CEO of the Happy Harry’s drugstore chain), working with Carper and Coons, went looking for a buyer for the refinery. Seven months later, they found one: PBF Energy, which, after a $450 million investment, reopened the facility to much fanfare in October 2011.
Casting about for more big fish, the administration reeled in another California-based company, Bloom Energy, which makes fuel cells using a process that doesn’t produce greenhouse gases. Last April, Bloom broke ground to become the first tenant of the STAR campus, lured by up to $16.5 million in state funding tied to creation of as many as 900 jobs. At the ceremony, Bloom’s CEO said his company chose Delaware over other East Coast suitors because of the educated workforce, a business-friendly climate, and the governor’s “integrity and transparency.”
Markell’s whirlwind first four years earned him high marks from most observers. That would include the man himself.
“We relentlessly focused on three major things: doing everything we could to improve the economic climate, improving our schools, and being financially responsible,” he says. “And I think by all three measures, we made really excellent progress.
“I think we did a good job to get the refinery to reopen, to get the Chrysler site [sold] and see Bloom putting steel in the ground, to see JPMorgan Chase add 1,200 jobs, to see Bank of America, which was cutting 30,000 people across the country, adding 500 in Delaware. I’m also proud of the small stories, companies that grew by two-to-five employees, or the five-person business that started because of real entrepreneurial focus, but also because of some training and technical assistance from the state.”
He says there also has been significant progress in education—“and we’re seeing it in real data. I am more excited about what’s going on in Delaware schools than I’ve ever been. I think we have a very solid foundation to build on.”