The (Not So) Great Divide
The difference between upstate and downstate isn’t what it used to be. Here’s why.
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In the meantime, Kent and Sussex continue to become more worldly. The influx of highly educated professionals moving to those counties is helping to change the state’s approach to economic development.
With one of the largest concentrations of engineers and scientists in the world already residing in Delaware, officials would like to prompt talented retirees who live downstate to use their great minds to help boost the local economy.
But will great minds want to build a better contraption for pumpkin launching? Would that provide real economic or cultural stimulus? Not everyone agrees.
“It’s like herding cats, to get people from every culture and class to agree to one singular focus,” says Huber. He should know. His Punkin Chunkin’ association has grown to more than 3,000 members, and they’re all different.
But with the group’s website surpassing 1 million hits, Punkin Chunkin’ is negotiating with the Science Channel to develop programs about the science and technology of pumpkin launching. For Huber, a regular participant in Punkin Chunkin’, the goal is to continually break down stereotypes, to embrace change, and to grow what will “someday be considered a national event.”
“There’s a group of locals who don’t like change, and I ask them, ‘What in your personal life is the way it was five years ago?’” Huber says. “They’re reluctant to get out of that good old boy network and realize that the membership and our ideas and our vision are all much larger now.”
When Eric Sugrue opened his Big Fish Grill with his brother Norman in Rehoboth Beach 13 years ago, he wanted to develop a restaurant where the menu would appeal to the broadest cross-section of the Southern Delaware population. Today, the restaurant is a place where you can tuck into an 8-ounce pan-seared filet, but also enjoy Mom’s meatloaf served over mashed potatoes. It is this mass appeal that packs tables nearly 12 months a year.
“We find a very broad range of people come through our door, those from major metropolitan areas to the locals,” Sugrue says. “Our secret is not being too innovative and staying the same while the industry continues to change.”
It’s a formula that works, and one that, in its way, will change Northern Delaware. Big Fish started the summer by opening a brand-new restaurant on Wilmington’s burgeoning Riverfront. Similarly, the success of Rehoboth’s film festival was a good sign for the Newark Film Festival.
Like many Delawareans, Forney believes the absorption of ideas, attitudes and cultures between Northern and Southern Delaware is “a realization of inevitability,” that “there is nothing to fear.” The key to defining Delaware in the future will be to retain the traditions that tell the rest of America who we are.
“What is the heritage that will continue to define us?” Forney says. “What are the attractions that breed hospitality? Are we taking care of our beaches that will help our economy? You don’t fear change. You need to embrace change. We’re doing that. We have great festivals, galleries, restaurants, because people from other areas have come in with ideas, and for those who have lived here all their lives, they need not worry. They’re not about to lose scrapple.”
Or flying pumpkins.