Delaware Leaders in Economic Development: Bill Pfaff

May 13, 2021 –

Bill Pfaff, Director, Sussex County Economic Development

When Bill Pfaff became the director of the Delaware Small Business Development Center in Kent and Sussex counties, his boss, Clinton Tymes, offered some words of wisdom: “Give the business community what they need.”

That was in 1992, and Pfaff has never forgotten the advice. When he became the director of Sussex County Economic Development in 2017, he visited each of the county’s 25 towns to determine their individual economic dreams and create zones to offer specialized funding.

As a county resident, he knows the differences between eastern and western Sussex County. He calls the latter “a new frontier” for business expansion.

“I feel very lucky that I’ve been able to be part of Sussex County success stories,” he says. “There’s no question that it is different here than it was 30 to 35 years ago.”

What attracted you to the field of economic development? 

I worked in this community for almost 30 years, and I enjoyed my entire career with the Delaware Small Business Development Center. I’ve been blessed to be able to help Sussex County grow throughout my career and help local businesses. I’d rather see a business come to Delaware than another state.

What is the unique selling proposition for Sussex County?

The size of the county — there is a lot of opportunity for development. All 25 communities in this county have unique assets and shovel-ready sites. The second is the quality of life, both from a business and a family standpoint.  

What sectors are strong in Sussex County, and what sectors are you looking to grow?

Agriculture is one of the top two industries in the county. The farmers support the poultry industry with what they’re growing. Tourism is another booming sector, and we work very closely with all the chambers of commerce and Southern Delaware Tourism. 

There’s no question that healthcare is a big industry in this county as a result of so many people moving here. When you look at what healthcare jobs pay, you can see that they’re a real boost for the county.

What have businesses found most appealing about Sussex County?

The infrastructure. Businesses need water, sewer, electricity and high-speed internet, and they will find that in Sussex County. Eastern Shore Natural Gas, a subsidiary of Chesapeake Utilities, is installing natural gas throughout the county. We have four major highways that lead to major metropolitan areas in the Mid-Atlantic region. There are a number of locations throughout Sussex County that offer rail.

What is the advantage of promoting an area in the United States’ second-smallest state? 

Two weeks ago, my phone rings, and it was Governor John Carney asking me for a phone number. In Delaware, we’re all family, and we help each other. 

When you were young, what did you want to be when you grew up?

I thought that I’d go into business and be my own boss. I didn’t know the word “entrepreneur” then, but I knew it was special. My family knew people who were running a lumberyard, a restaurant, hardware stores, the local pharmacy. That’s why I’ve always enjoyed working with people starting businesses.

What did you study in college?

Business administration at York College of Pennsylvania.

What was the last book you read?

I just read the biography of Mother Angelica. She established Our Lady of the Angels Monastery in Birmingham, Alabama, and founded The Eternal Word Television Network. She had an idea and saw a need. She had a message and created something from nothing.

Whom do you admire?

My father made me who I am today. I was also very active in the Boy Scouts of America when I was growing up. I looked up to the leadership, and they really taught me so much.

What advice would you give someone considering a career in economic development?

Know your community, its needs and what is available. Most importantly, know the regulations, from stormwater management to wastewater. You must fully know what a business needs — the full package — so you can understand the potential impact.

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