The Heart of the Deal
Tommy Cooper brings passion, innovation—and a touch of Sussex County flavor—to his role as chair of the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce.
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Five years ago, business in Delaware was flying high. Financial companies surged, a strong manufacturing presence boosted exports, and an influx of retirees to the coastal region boosted an already strong real estate market.
Delaware was living in an era of relative prosperity.
And, like Icarus, the global economy flew a little too close to the sun and the results crashed back to Earth. Banks that once permeated almost every facet of northern Delaware life faced massive overhauls when shares plummeted by 90 percent, auto manufacturers in Newark and Newport shuttered their factories, and the real estate pool seemingly dried up over night.
Delaware’s economy needed help—the unemployment rate peaked at 9.4 percent in February 2010, up from 3.3 percent in May 2006—so the Delaware State Chamber of Commerce did what it does best: instill change. It strengthened its partnership with the Delaware Economic Development Office, advised businesses throughout the state as to new strategies, and in the summer of 2010, it helped bring Fisker Automotive, an electric car manufacturer, to the abandoned Boxwood Road Plant in Newport.
Chairing the massive projects spearheaded by the DSCC during this period of economic instability is a tall order for anyone in the best of times, let alone for a Realtor facing his own struggles with the housing market, yet Tommy Cooper jumped at the opportunity and hasn’t regretted it for a minute.
“I’m extremely humbled and proud to be the chairman,” he says. “It’s a wonderful institution and when I walk in the boardroom and look at the pictures of the past chairs, I am proud to be one of them.”
Cooper, the first Sussex resident to head this organization, is a relative unknown to most of the state. He isn’t a player in the financial or scientific fields and he has never run for political office—he considered it years ago, but today’s politics are too nasty a business, he says.
“I’d rather be a kingmaker behind the scenes than the alternative. There’s always a way of putting things together so that everybody benefits.”
The Lewes-based Realtor deftly combines the stereotypes of a charismatic southerner from an old Faulkner novel with those of a jet-setting modern-day businessman with one foot in the boardroom and the other on the golf course.
“It’s definitely a balancing act,” he says. “When I put on the metaphorical chamber hat, I need to be bipartisan, look at things and ask, ‘What’s in the best interest of the state, county or town?’ A lot of times my personal and political views have to be tempered so I can look at the big picture.”
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