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virtual learning at Zip Code WIlmington

Zip Code Wilmington Move to Virtual Learning Brings New Opportunities

Zip Code Wilmington Move to Virtual Learning Opened Doors for New Opportunities

virtual learning at Zip Code WIlmington

Success for Zip Code Wilmington can be defined in many ways, but Executive Director Desa Burton lights up when she talks about a recent student who loaded everything he owned into a car and drove to Wilmington from Dallas to join the program.

“He had every intention of going back to Texas, but he got a job here and is very happy. We have students who come to us from across the United States and its territories, such as Atlanta, Brooklyn, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico, who are applying for or now have jobs here in Wilmington,” Burton says, adding that about 75% of her students stay in Delaware after graduation. “Zip Code attracts high-level talent to this area. Wherever these out-of-state students are, opportunities are not working for them so they’re willing to move here. Now we’re working on introducing more businesses outside our region to see that Delaware checks all the boxes for their employees in terms of quality of life, housing affordability, infrastructure, and resources available for young families.”

Considered one of the nation’s top three nonprofits of its type, Zip Code Wilmington is a 12-week coding bootcamp that gives students the technical, interpersonal, and leadership skills needed to secure a competitive developer job and increase their earning potential. Burton beams when asked about the non-technical part of the curriculum.

“We have an amazing professional development program. Sometimes that’s all I hear about in the final interviews,” says Burton. “Our hiring manager has more than 10 years of improv experience and he uses that to help the students with active listening, being able to answer questions, and move and flow in different interview settings. They get a resume when they leave. We help them create or fix up their LinkedIn profiles. We work with them on networking and teaching them how to do that. It’s really neat to see how having that secret sauce really makes such a big difference in the outcome of the student.”

Zip Code Wilmington’s training program offers two course tracks – full-stack Java Development with Spring Boot, Angular, and MySQL as well as Data Engineering and Analytics based on Python, R, and SQL.

When Burton arrived at Zip Code Wilmington in September 2019 – armed with an MBA and law degree she earned after leaving the military — she says she was “basically being put in charge of a very successful startup and being told not to break it.” Besides having to learn human resources, finance, accounting, she was suddenly being asked to “think not like a lawyer, but like a businessperson, especially when COVID hit.”

“We had to be innovative. We had to be scrappy. We had to get out there and make changes in the midst of a crisis,” she said.

Asked about her student demographics, Burton says the answer is different today than it was when she became executive director.

“I would have just told you then average age 35, career changers, adult learners,” she says. “After putting in all these innovative new programs, I can tell you we teach people 16 years old to 60. We were in seven high schools last year, teaching front-end software development.” Teaching in Delaware’s high schools is new. Burton explains, “Zip Code Wilmington is well known for training up folks who may or may not have gone to college, have some work experience or who may have already been in their career 5, 10, 15 years, and are either looking to change because the end is coming, or they don’t want to go back to school to get another degree if they have a degree. Some tried the degree route but didn’t like it or didn’t have the money for it. For some reason, they’re at a place where they need to get into tech and this is the way that they want to do it, through a 12-week course. As we view it, talent is distributed evenly, but opportunity is not. We provide opportunities!”

It costs Zip Code Wilmington $15,000 to train someone, although students will not pay more than $12,000. It costs a student $6,000 upfront to enter the program. If they get a job with a corporate partner, that company will pay the remaining $9,000. If they get a job with a non-corporate partner, they’re responsible for the remaining $6,000.

There are “scholarships” for students who served in the military or fall into a “needs-based category (i.e., 200% below the poverty line). Burton says those are the only ways that students don’t pay that initial tuition.

Placement fell in 2020 during the pandemic, when companies froze a lot of positions, to 61%, from previous years when Zip Code Wilmington placed students at a rate approaching 90% within six months. But Burton says things are picking up, with JPMorgan Chase announcing in January that they hired more than 30 Zip Coders in 2020. For now, the size of the cohorts reflects job placement forecasts – from 35 before the pandemic to 25 over the past 18-24 months – but placement is returning to an average of 80% and cohort size should return to normal the economy improves.

Making the Switch to Virtual Learning

Zip Code Wilmington had to be nimble and switch to training remotely in March 2020.

“Our instructors were concerned that the students would not have the same experience, that they would not bond as well, that they would not retain the knowledge as well,” says Burton. “I knew that this was not going to be a two-week deal, so we needed to figure out how to make it work and be remote for an extended period. We launched virtual training on March 13th.”

Zip Code started off with Zoom sessions but supplemented it with collaboration platforms such as Discord and Slack.

“Communication between the students never dropped. They can work freely together in a remote environment, connect with each other at will,” Burton says. “Everyone thought you must be next to each other to code, to look at each other’s screen, and touch each other’s keyboard. But now that we’re remote, everything is virtual. They’re able to meet, deliver training, edit code, and connect online seamlessly.”

“I told every remote student that they could set up a time to come in and meet with an instructor who can work with them in person. On the first day, they asked about it but once they started working online, no one asked again. It just worked out really well.”

Burton says there hasn’t been any difference in picking up the material between different age groups or other demographics.

“I think a virtual environment makes it much easier for people to just judge you based on your merit. I think in a virtual environment you have less of that “ism” happening because if an employer really needs to get a product off the line, they need to get coders in ASAP. The last thing they’re worried about is what are you wearing because guess what? They’re seeing you on a remote screen and they’re really focusing more on your code than anything else.”

Burton says Zip Coders are different from students that are going through the for-profit programs around the country, most of whom don’t disclose their placement rates and other outcomes like her organization does.

“Zip Coders are just different. They’re team players. They are hungry for change. They are committed, dedicated. There is just something about their personality that is so cool. I hear it a lot from candidates for our program. Other coding bootcamps are mostly for-profit. They’ve got to make money. They need to get people through the door and churn them through to get the tuition and then churn through the next one. They’re not really focused on figuring out the quality of the education that they’re given, because they don’t have to worry about that. We stick with our students for the next three to six months to make sure they get a job. We are incentivized to do so because we are transparent in our outcomes and report them on our website. Also, we do not receive the remainder of their tuition until our graduates get their first job.”

“Our mission is to help build the economy of this region. I can’t do that if people are coming in and not getting jobs. I can’t bring in 200 people during COVID when I know there’s no jobs out there, just so that I have money in my bank account. That doesn’t work. And so that’s why we’re different. They can train regardless of what’s happening in the economic environment. I cannot.”

Employers who had job freezes in 2020 are coming back too.

“Pre-COVID, some employers were consistently hiring. They were there for every power interview week, which is that week after the students finish the training. Other employers were periodic and would show up at certain points of the year. I’m seeing more activity now from both those who consistently hired and from those periodic employers. They’re coming in more often and they’re hiring more people.”

Online training is here to stay at Zip Code Wilmington. Burton says, “Because of what we learned during COVID, because of the fact we were able to do remote training and broaden our outreach, and I want to continue to do that. Not to the detriment of the region, but to attract people here.”

Companies often send their employees to Zip Code for either upskilling or reskilling, two fairly interchangeable terms. They may send someone who’s been in customer service for 10 years, knows everything about the company and its culture, but they want to put them into a technical role. Or they were in a testing role of some kind but want to expose them to Java programming. Or they invite Zip Code in to teach a group of people a skill, particularly if they want to improve their diversity (DE&I) numbers.

“In some cases, they want to move the needle in a very short period of time,” says Burton, adding that larger companies often go into universities and hire diverse people who don’t have technical skills and ask Zip Code to teach them how to be coders.

Enrollment over time has been about 31% female and about the same for Black and Latino students. The program was designed to lower the barriers of entry – making the training accessible and affordable to all – which has resulted in remarkable diversity outcomes over its six-year history.

Looking ahead over the next 12 to 15 months, Burton would like to get its placement numbers back up to pre-COVID levels or better; incorporate online learning into the strategy of Zip Code going forward; and get into more high schools to do front-end training and expose students to coding possibilities.

“Right now, about 65% of Delaware public schools have computer-science training; I think the state should be in the 90s, whether that’s with us, with Pathways, or a university,” Burton says.

As far as industries go, Zip Code Wilmington works mainly with the financial sector with companies like Chase, M&T Bank, CSC, Marlette Funding, and Capital One. “I would like to broaden that and get our eggs into some other baskets,” says Burton, adding that InterDigital came through “in a big way” over this past summer by giving Zip Code Wilmington the money to launch that program in those high schools across the state.

“I was talking to a couple of cohort graduates yesterday who met at Zip Code and now have a young daughter. They told me that because of Zip Code, they have money for daycare and can start a college-savings fund. They both have new cars, and they’re comfortable paying their bills without worrying. That to me is success.”

“The number one concern for out-of-state employers is having access to a labor force that can meet their needs. And I think it’d be very important for employers to know that Zip Code can scale. We can train more people if there are more jobs. We train to the jobs that are available or that look they’re coming available. If employers are considering moving their headquarters here or opening a second location in Delaware and they’re worried about whether we have enough coders coming in, that won’t be a problem. We can do custom training. If they need 100 people ready to go when they open the doors, we can help them achieve that goal.”

Burton says she doesn’t see the organization opening, for example a Zip Code Buffalo or St. Louis, but the pandemic experience of offering training remotely makes it easier to support corporate partners with offices in other locations.

“It’s something we hadn’t really considered before. When we trained solely in Wilmington, in person, our reach was somewhat narrow. Now that we’ve grown from all this innovation, we can see that there’s a lot more that we can do with a broader geographical footprint without leaving Wilmington are or losing focus on our commitment to the greater Delaware region.”

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Eastern Highway Specialists Increases Blue-Collar Opportunities in Wilmington

Eastern Highway Specialists Increases Blue-Collar Opportunities in Wilmington

Before Bob Field was hiring and training dozens of employees at Eastern Highway Specialists, his Wilmington-based infrastructure construction company of 18 years, he was working on the Delaware Memorial Bridge late at night, laying concrete – and the foundation of his new business.

“I would be out there till 3 a.m.,” Field said in his office on North Church Street, where EHS has operated since 2003. “I’d come home, go to sleep and wake up three hours later. When you start a business, you have to just be there and pay attention to everything, no matter what.”

EHS has come a long way from the small garage out of which Bob and his wife, Clair Field, founded their general contracting business. From developing pedestrian walkways and rehabilitating historic bridges to replacing bridge bearings on major highways like I-95, the firm has left its professional mark on how people travel throughout the Mid-Atlantic.

Bringing Blue-Collar Opportunities to Wilmington

Four years ago, Eastern Highway Specialists was at a crossroads.

Operating out of a 7,000 square-foot building on one acre of land, the heavy civil contractor needed to expand in order to hire more workers and buy equipment in bulk. Bob had added shop space over the years as his company increased from two employees to a 50-person workforce, but EHS had outgrown the North Church Street location. In 2017, it came time for EHS to start looking for new headquarters.

“The key is our growth in Wilmington,” Clair said. “There were places in other states that were close enough to consider, but with the emphasis on economic growth in the city, we really wanted to stay here.”

For the husband-and-wife team, Wilmington is home. They were both born at St. Francis Hospital about a year apart and had raised their eight children in the city.

Plus, Wilmington lies at the center of their bridge and highway projects, placing EHS within a 60-mile radius of highway construction sites throughout Delaware, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

EHS is a family business, with Bob serving as the company president and Clair as majority financial owner. Four of their children are also involved. They actively seek to increase the company’s diversity, with a third of EHS’s workforce comprising people of color.

So when Clair and Bob found property where they could build and develop a nearly 20,000-square-foot shop on five acres in Riverside, they jumped at the opportunity. The company’s $4 million investment on Downing Drive is nearly tripling their current space and adding four acres. Two grants approved by the state Council on Development Finance earlier this year are helping EHS bring 17 new positions to Riverside and improving existing infrastructure.

“These grants help offset some of the higher costs of developing land in former industrial cities such as Wilmington,” said safety and training manager Nathan Field. “It takes longer to return these areas to productive use today, and there are special associated costs.”

The cul de sac the company is adding to Downing Drive could potentially draw other businesses to the area.

“The grants will also help us upgrade Downing Drive, and it’s going to improve the desirability of doing business on this stretch for many other companies, too,” Nathan said.

Laying a Local Foundation

The new property not only benefits EHS as a company but also its workers, the surrounding Riverside community and future businesses.

Bob and Clair are invested in their workforce. They don’t want to hire people who leave after a few months. Every year, they sit down with employees to talk about next steps, so that their current positions can blossom into specialized careers.

“We are highly involved in developing a local workforce,” said Nathan, who is one of Clair and Bob’s sons.

As a participant in the Workplace Health and Safety Incentive Program for more than a decade, EHS is also committed to training employees on new skills and safety protocol. Since 2008, EHS has been continuously involved in the State of Delaware apprenticeship program as a sponsor. Nine of the company’s current employees graduated from the program, and four EHS foremen are apprentice graduates.

“We have to work from within,” Bob said. “As one example, we have someone who’s been with us for 10 years. He went through the apprenticeship program, and he’s now a certified welder.”

new blue-collar jobs with eastern highway specialistsThat means keeping blue-collar opportunities within walking distance, which is another reason EHS is staying in Wilmington’s East Side.

“People are choosing to invest here,” Nathan said, pointing to nearby REACH Riverside, a nonprofit that is improving the neighborhood through new housing projects.

By moving the construction company to the Riverside neighborhood, residents who don’t have cars will still have the opportunity to work for EHS.

“When there were factories, everybody was walking to work,” Nathan said of Wilmington’s industrial period. “When you’re rebuilding and creating new jobs in these areas, it’s a benefit to have companies that people can walk to.”

By redeveloping the Downing Drive site, the Field family is positioning EHS to be part of Wilmington’s growth and revitalization.

“We want to be part of the rise in the city,” Clair said.

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The Innovation Space expands in Delaware

The Innovation Space™ Expands Lab and Office Space for Startups

The Innovation Space™ Expands Lab and Office Space Available to Startups

The Innovation Space expands in Delaware

September 17, 2021 – 

50,000 Sq.ft.  Of Laboratory and Office Space Available April 2022

WILMINGTON, Del. – The Innovation Space™, an ecosystem with funding, resources, and programs tailored to accelerate and scale science-based startups, announced today that 50,000 ft2 of Class A laboratory and office space will be available in April 2022. This space, located in The Innovation Space’s Wilmington, Delaware headquarter building is comprised of 33 laboratories, 76 offices, and a network of shared conference rooms, collaboration spaces and amenities. Residential clients also gain access to the Experimental Station, a secure, 24/7 supported, innovation campus with a cafeteria, fitness center, exercise classes, and critical infrastructure support resources.

The lab and office footprint aims to enable biotechnology, chemistry, and material science startups as they grow and attain key milestones for expanded facilities. The space available in April 2022 is currently occupied by a large biotechnology client and supports both the advancement of their research and development of their business. Upon this client’s graduation from The Innovation Space in early 2022, the space will be made available to the next generation of startups and scaling companies.

“We are very pleased to be able to intensify our commitment to the growth of science-based startup companies and drive economic growth,” said Bill Provine, CEO of The Innovation Space. “This space would be a perfect fit for biotech or chemistry-based companies and can support multiple smaller growth companies or be a great home for a rapidly scaling larger company.”

“The Innovation Space has been a critical partner for Prelude Therapeutics in support of our rapid growth,” said Kris Vaddi, CEO of Prelude Therapeutics. “We continue to gain value from their entrepreneur-first business focus and flexible engagement strategies which have provided us with the framework to expand our company with them from 5 employees in 2017 to over 100 employees today,” said Vaddi.

“Whether you are just starting out your journey as a science entrepreneur or are have recently raised a multi-million-dollar round of investment, you will find supportive programs and capabilities across The Innovation Space that will enable you to move your startup forward more aggressively,” said Provine. “We are an entrepreneur-first organization and have both physical assets such as leveraged scientific equipment and world-class laboratory capabilities in addition to our supportive suite of business building programs. These programs include our First Fund™ where we provide investment, our Science INC™ cohort-based accelerator where we work intensely over a four month program with early startups on their business models and connect them with partners and investors, and our Spark Factory™ mentoring program where we provide access to and advice from seasoned functional experts and business leaders.”

About The Innovation Space™:

The Innovation Space is a multi-dimensional, non-profit entrepreneurial support organization and an ecosystem where entrepreneurs, scientists, business leaders, community members, investors, and service providers in the advanced materials, industrial and agriculture biotechnology, chemical ingredients, renewable energy, nutrition, therapeutics, diagnostics, and healthcare fields can build business concepts together and accelerate the path to commercialization of each startup. The Innovation Space was formed from a public-private partnership between the State of Delaware, DuPont, and the University of Delaware. The Innovation Space™ is also known as Delaware Innovation Space™ and the Home for Science Entrepreneurs™.

Learn more: innovationspace.org; https://bit.ly/TheInnovationSpace; and www.firstfund.org.

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Pine Box Delaware Stage events

Wilmington Businesses Put World Events on Delaware Stage

Wilmington Event Production Businesses Put Delaware on World Stage and World on Delaware Stage

Light Action, Applied Electronics and Staging Dimensions Operations to be Joined by Pine Box Soundstage this Fall

Scott Humphrey is probably the most active Delawarean you’ve never heard of.

If you’ve seen a large outdoor production, you’ve likely experienced his work. From Firefly, to Election Night at the Riverfront, to the stage where the Pope spoke in Philly, he and his team at Light Action and Staging Dimensions were front and center.

Pine Box Soundstage to Open Late Fall 2021

Now, Pine Box, currently under construction for a targeted opening in late fall 2021, is a massive soundstage facility for rehearsing concerts, film productions and large (think Broadway) performing arts events. The name Pine Box comes from a saying that Humphrey’s father used to use.

“He would talk about moving into his final home, and the one after that would be the pine box,” Humphrey said. And it just kind of stuck. This is my final stop.”

The idea behind Pine Box came out of necessity. Outgrowing their New Castle location, where they had set up shop over 14 years ago, while also becoming more involved in corporate activations found them in need of a more dynamic location.

“Companies like Red Bull and AT&T were looking to stage events before they go out to do their promotions, so we needed a facility that could accommodate their needs,” Humphrey said. “In doing that, we realized there was an opportunity to do the same for the film industry.”

Humphrey’s companies were on point for the 2020 Presidential Campaign, from working several of Donald Trump’s rallies through running the gamut of Joe Biden’s speeches in Wilmington at The Queen and then the Democratic Convention at the Chase Center as well as the week of the election. When asked about the challenge of running an Election Night that turned into an election week, Humphrey said, “These types of events always come down to the last minute. It’s very challenging to get things prepped for an event like that with things changing, even locations changing. But we really are so used to that at this point.”

Why Wilmington?

When asked Why Wilmington?, Humphrey was candid.

“Well, this is where I live,” he said. “I’ve been here since 1983, made my home here, and this is my community. There was no plan to be here, but this is where it grew. There are more reasons to be here than there  are not.”

Between Humphrey’s three businesses Light Action, Applied Electronics and Staging Dimensions there are 60 collective years of experience and 130 employees, many who have been with him for over 20 years. “It was a really difficult decision to make when the pandemic hit, but I was able to do it with only 21 layoffs,he said. Humphrey did have to reduce wages to 50% scale to make it work, but has since gotten wages back to 100%.

In an industry known for dealing with curveballs, the pandemic hit Humphrey’s businesses harder than most, peaking right at the time when their largest annual events — festivals, commencements, etc. — typically occur.

“We do 50% of our business in a four-month period, and all of that stuff got canceled,” he said. “No one realized that our industry, entertainment, had over 80% unemployment. We’re slowly coming back from that, but we won’t really see a full return until sometime next year.”

When Pine Box opens, Humphrey expects it to house at least 60 employees with certain events creating an influx of 12 to 30 workers from the local stagehand union. “Our space becomes this nucleus of people working in and out of the building,” he explained.

One of the things that makes Humphrey’s companies unique is that over 85% of their gross revenue is earned outside Delaware. “We are a model for both the state and for the city for bringing in dollars from outside the region into the state, with the people who are working here actually living in the state,” he said.

When asked what the highlight of 2020 was for Humphrey, he didn’t hesitate.

“It was turning to the people that work for the company, very talented people who could work anywhere, and explaining to them what I was able to do when the pandemic hit,” he recalled. “The fact that they said ‘yes,’ almost to a person – that loyalty was the highlight for me. I never thought I’d see it the way I saw it.”

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UD, Delaware Technology Park and Discover Bank partner on new FinTech building at STAR Campus

Option: 1

UD, Delaware Technology Park and Discover Bank Partner on new FinTech Building at STAR Campus


Once a nearly blank canvas inviting imagination for what the university of the future may look like, the University of Delaware’s Science Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus is realizing such transformation on a daily basis. Combining top academics and research with industry and community partnerships, a renewed future is shaping in real time at this intersection of discovery, education and innovation, driven by a bold vision for positive impact on the world.

UD, Delaware Technology Park (DTP) and Discover Bank will partner on the construction of a new building that continues the STAR Campus’s march into the future, adding a building block that taps into the evolving world of financial services technology — commonly called FinTech — with an eye on growth for Delaware.

Like the previous construction on STAR Campus, the six-story, 100,000-square feet structure will bring various facets of an industry together under one roof, in this case the academic, business and governmental segments of the financial world.

“Working with DTP and Discover to strengthen Delaware’s growing FinTech sector, the University of Delaware is proud to participate in this public-private partnership, continuing development of knowledge and innovations that help drive our state’s economy,” said UD President Dennis Assanis. “Our University is a national leader in finance, technology and entrepreneurship, so combining our expertise and resources in these complementary fields will yield exciting opportunities for our students and faculty with meaningful impact on society.”

The new FinTech building will add immense value to Delaware’s growing prowess in financial technology. More and more financial services companies are morphing into technology companies. Global investment in FinTech-related companies rose from $18.9 billion in 2013 to $111.8 billion in 2018, according to a recent report by the Delaware Prosperity Partnership.

“We’re working hard in Delaware to support those entrepreneurs and innovators who will keep our state competitive in the 21st century economy, and drive new job creation,” Governor John Carney said. “We’re also good at working together in Delaware, and I am really pleased to see this kind of collaboration between the private sector and the University of Delaware. This partnership at the STAR Campus will help create a pipeline of skilled local talent, support our entrepreneurs, build on our strength in financial technology, and strengthen our economy over the long term.”

By constructing a hub where the financial services industry and academia intersect with technology and innovation, UD, Discover and DTP will contribute to the vitality of Delaware’s economy. UD’s research and instruction in data-related disciplines will create a highly capable workforce to feed the FinTech industry in Delaware, including the start-up businesses that will hatch, grow and spin out of the new facility.

The building will house:

  • Spaces for startups to develop and grow, managed by Delaware Technology Park. Tenants will have onsite access to business development resources and technical assistance.
  • Labs and centers associated within UD’s College of Engineering and Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics. These spaces will link strengths and resources from both colleges on topics such as financial analytics, cybersecurity, human-machine learning and data analysis.
  • UD’s Office of Economic Innovation and Partnerships (OEIP) will relocate its offices from the Delaware Technology Park’s Innovation Way location.
  • Delaware’s Small Business Development Center, which will be synergistically located to offer assistance to OEIP’s Spin In program. This program connects UD undergraduate students with community entrepreneurs and early-stage startups to give them an inside look at business innovation in action and a chance to apply what they’re learning in real-life situations.

“Delaware Technology Park is excited to launch a new building project on STAR Campus in conjunction with the University of Delaware and funded by Discover Bank,” said Mike Bowman, president and CEO of DTP. “It will contain faculty, students and entrepreneurs with outstanding data science knowledge and digital management competencies as well as support resources for business development and community education.”

The $38 million project will be funded via a favorable below market interest rate loan by Discover Bank to DTP, the owner of the building. UD will lease space in the building.

Discover Bank is currently exploring ways to partner with UD on research related to the financial technology needs of the bank that may include cyber-related technologies, and consumer data analytics, applications and behaviors. A national nonprofit focused on improving the financial health of communities, has partnered with Discover Bank to work with UD, DTP, entrepreneurs and the community on the utilization and testing of financial technologies to improve consumer financial health.

“Discover Bank is dedicated to building stronger communities, which is why we’ve championed this project with the Delaware Technology Park and the University of Delaware to expand economic opportunities, create jobs in financial services and FinTech, and promote financial health for underserved populations,” said Discover Bank President James J. Roszkowski. “The development at STAR helps us realize our vision of creating brighter financial futures for consumers as well as creating new opportunities for the business community.”

The building, which is scheduled for a 2021 opening, will mark the first sizable presence of Lerner College on the STAR Campus.

“This project will create an excellent opportunity for UD students to explore new frontiers in data-related disciplines including computer and information sciences, computer engineering and financial analytics,” UD Provost Robin Morgan said. “With a focus on setting up our students for success, the UD community will have access to new space for academic growth and the pursuit of employment opportunities in the continuously expanding FinTech industry here in Delaware.”

Potential plans and programs include a cybersecurity leadership center that would link Lerner’s cybersecurity management with the College of Engineering’s cybersecurity engineering and technology, a space for human-machine learning and social media data analysis and a multi-media studio.

Kurt Foreman


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Datwyler Sealing Solutions plant in Middleton Delaware

Datwyler Sealing Solutions Chooses Delaware for $100 Million Facility

Datwyler Sealing Solutions Chooses Delaware for $100 Million Facility

Datwyler Sealing Solutions new facility Middleton DE

When Datwyler Sealing Solutions decided to expand its manufacturing and distribution capabilities in North America, the Swiss company’s site selection criteria were quite specific. After considering locations across the United States, company leaders concluded that Middletown, Delaware, was the optimal location for its new $100 million, 200,000 sq. ft. manufacturing plant.

“We identified a handful of areas across the country that might satisfy our needs, “says Frank Schoubben, site director of the company’s new Middletown, DE, plant. He served as a member of the team tasked with selecting the new U.S. site.

Datwyler, a more than 100-year-old firm headquartered in the heart of the Swiss Alps, began as a manufacturer of rubber products, including tires. Today, however, Datwyler Holding owns 50 business entities, with sales in over 100 countries and employing more than 8,000 employees. Its product line includes a broad range of rubber stoppers, aluminum seals, plungers, combiseals, tip caps and needle shields used in pharmaceutical products, medical devices and for diagnostic research and drug development. Datwyler Sealing Solutions also makes products for the automotive business, consumer goods, oil & gas, and general industries.

The new Middletown plant, opened in 2018, is dedicated to Datwyler’s proprietary clean-room technology dubbed “FirstLine.” The technology is aimed at eliminating contamination in the manufacturing process, a critical concern in the pharmaceutical and medical devices industries.

During the site selection process, location was first on the list of Datwyler’s critical considerations. The site had to be near the company’s major customers in the pharmaceutical and medical devices industries. Sites across the continental United States were under consideration, but Datwyler was especially interested in locations in the tri-state area of New York, Delaware, and New Jersey, an epicenter of the American pharma industry.

In addition to geographic concerns, the company knew it would need to hire in excess of 100 employees with a variety of technical and business skills. So, a critical element of the search process was a survey of educational resources that would be nearby and responsive to Datwyler’s requirements.

Finally, the new site had to be near a major, international airport.

In the end, Middletown, Delaware, made the cut. 

A native of Belgium, Schoubben holds a master’s degree in industrial engineering and electrical mechanics with a specialty in polymers. A 16-year veteran of Datwyler, he has worked at company sites around the world. Most importantly, he led a greenfield site project in India, so he has lived through – and mastered – the tricky process of managing the technical and regulatory details of site selection.

“A number of things attracted us to Delaware. Of course, its proximity to our customers, many of whom are in New Jersey, was a key factor,” says Schoubben. “There are about 100 colleges and universities within a 2-hour drive from Delaware, so we knew we would have an attractive pool of well-educated people to satisfy our hiring needs.”

While technical competency is a requirement for employment with companies like Datwyler, so-called “soft skills” are also in demand. “A key objective of our hiring process is to identify people we can groom as future leaders,” says Schoubben. “We are engaged in that search now and expect to hire a total of 120 employees for this site.”

“We appreciate and admire Delaware’s historic ties to the chemical industry and manufacturing,” says Schoubben.  “And, of course, the scale of business and industrial growth in the Middletown area made it clear that this area welcomes companies like ours.”

Once Delaware emerged as the leading contender, Datwyler reached out to state economic development officials to explore the feasibility of locating in the Middletown area.

“Our experience was great,” Schoubben says. “It was very easy to establish open communications with state and local officials.”

He says they helped the company overcome potential barriers to obtaining permits and navigating regulatory workstreams. Because of their extensive experience, Delaware officials were able to arrange key contacts, make introductions and sequence events so that the overall process flowed smoothly.

“It’s been a good ride for us,” says Schoubben. “We continue to have good relationships with state and local officials and they continue to provide support when we need it. The fact that it took only 18 months from groundbreaking to grand opening is really notable. This is a winner for us!”

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