Delaware Leaders in Economic Development: Jeff Flynn

May 14, 2021 – 

Jeff Flynn, Director of Economic Development, Wilmington

Jeff Flynn knows his way around Wilmington. The Delaware native has been in city government since 2002 and has held the position of director of economic development since late 2015. The seasoned director has worked under three mayors.

In many respects, Flynn was destined for the job. His godfather was former Wilmington Mayor Tom Maloney, who was best friends with Flynn’s father, John Flynn. When Maloney was elected mayor, the older Flynn — previously a chemical engineer with DuPont — became his chief of staff.

“I have fond memories of riding around in trash trucks and going to the Bicentennial celebration,” Jeff Flynn recalls. But before entering city government, he worked for MBNA and founded two small businesses, one of which involved real estate.

What attracted you to the field of economic development? 

Initially, what attracted me was the intersection of business, government and real estate. What has kept me in the field is the ability to make tangible, positive impacts on my community: I enjoy playing for the home team.

This occupation offers a surprising degree of diversity. One day you’re working with a small business. Another day, you’re assisting a corporate client in resolving an issue or advancing a land acquisition transaction or construction project. Every action is geared toward improving the quality of life

What is the unique selling proposition for Wilmington?

If you want an urban experience in Delaware without going to Philadelphia, Wilmington is it. You have big city amenities in a central location. Wilmington has so much to offer in a small area. 

We have an educated workforce, with roots in engineering and science thanks to the DuPont Company. The Financial Center Development Act developed our talent in financial services technology, and our reputation in corporate law and governance is highly regarded.

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

To attract a talented workforce, you need places to live near parks and cultural amenities. Of course, we have gorgeous parks. With the development of the Wilmington Riverfront, we are looking to build a cultural energy. We’ve been very focused on restaurants, entertainment, open spaces and recreation. These amenities attract talent, which in turn attracts employers and entrepreneurs. 

What have businesses found most appealing about Wilmington?

You have access to government at all levels, and there is a low cost of living and a low cost of doing business. 

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

We’re all in this together. Since it takes five minutes to drive outside the city limits, it’s in everyone’s best interest not to pursue a zero-sum game.

It’s only getting better. When Kurt Foreman joined the Delaware Prosperity Partnership as president and CEO, development went to the next level. The DPP brings all of us in the profession — across the state — together. 

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

I don’t recall anything that stands out. 

What did you study in college?

I studied history and had the opportunity to travel to Greece and study history and archeology. When you study the liberal arts, you learn how to read, write and think critically.

What was the last book you read?

I just finished Foresight Investing: A Complete Guide to Finding Your Next Great Trade”

by Wilmington’s own futurist, Jim Lee. He’s a friend of mine from the Trolley Square neighborhood.

The last novel I read was “Circe” by Madeline Miller, a wonderful adaptation of Homer’s “Odyssey.” 

Whom do you admire?

At the moment, I admire Deb DeHart, the performing arts teacher at my son’s school, St. Edmond’s Academy. She is producing the spring musical for middle-schoolers. Using Zoom, she’s teaching 40 kids to sing. They have all these parts, and they’re editing it all on the computer using virtual backgrounds. It’s going to be distributed online. It’s an incredible effort.

I admire her and all others who put in the extra effort to deliver their passion rather than cancel. 

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

A real estate background is helpful. Community involvement — I am more effective at my job because of time spent chairing the Delaware Avenue Community Association. I can better relate to community leaders who approach the city.

Learning how to write, speak and communicate is important to be successful in any career, especially in this field, and there’s a great organization called the National Development Council that offers classes. I recommend Economic Development 101.

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