By Atnre Alleyne,  Michael Dejos, Aiste Foreman, Faith Meisinger-Petit, Kate Rudolph, David Skoranski, and Stephenie Tatman

Delaware leaders recently submitted their pitch to attract Amazon’s new headquarters. While the details of the 103-page pitch are largely undisclosed, the accompanying pitch video offers a simple message: “There are #OptionsinDE.”

Yet, in a state that is attracting retirees and losing millennials at high rates, a similar message about options in Delaware is rarely communicated to Delaware’s younger demographic. This leaves many–some transplants and some lifelong Delawareans– wondering: are there #OptionsinDE for young professionals?

After investing two 14-hour days each of the last ten months to learn from more than 130 leaders of various industries in Delaware through the Leadership Delaware program, we have an answer to that question: There are unparalleled opportunities for young professionals in Delaware.

As part of a highly-diverse (by race, gender, political identity, occupation, etc.) Leadership Delaware cohort of 26 young professionals, we regularly encountered (and embraced!) areas of disagreement during our discussions of topics ranging from criminal justice, healthcare, education, state finance and economic development. But you would be hard-pressed to find one of us who is not inspired and enticed by the following opportunities available in Delaware:

Delaware offers opportunity for greater access to high-level executives and for faster professional growth. It was evident in the stories we heard from Richards, Layton & Finger Executive Vice President Doneene Damon, Secretary of Transportation Jennifer Cohan, Synchrogenix CEO Kelly Kendle, and Secretary of Health and Social Services Kara Odom Walker about their path to the top of their respective organizations. The many Leadership Delaware alums who are growing and leading large portfolios of work in the state provide further evidence. In fact, during the program, we celebrated as several members of our cohort earned major promotions, joined nonprofit boards, were appointed to serve on key commissions, and were named to the Delaware Business Times’ 40 under 40 list.

There is significant opportunity for entrepreneurship in Delaware. This was evident in our conversation with Leadership Delaware alumnus Bryan Tracy whose biotechnology company White Dog Labs is attracting investment from Silicon Valley and from the U.S Department of Energy. It was clear in our conversations with several leaders of thriving, family-owned businesses in Sussex County. The possibilities were palpable in our conversation with millennial architect and entrepreneur Robert Herrera whose companies The Mill and WhyFly are growing rapidly in Wilmington. If you are a young entrepreneur (nonprofit or for-profit), we learned that assets like the Longwood Foundation, Delaware Community Foundation, the University of Delaware Horn Entrepreneurship Center, 1313 Innovation, and Start It Up Delaware can help you thrive in Delaware.

Young professionals looking for an environment abundant in talent and innovation should look no further than Delaware. During the program, we interacted with leaders of numerous Delaware companies at the cutting-edge nationally and worldwide. Wilmington-based Incyte Corporation is ranked in the top ten of the world’s most innovative companies. The University of Delaware-based National Institute for Innovation in Manufacturing Biopharmaceuticals has attracted nearly $250 million in investment to make Delaware a world leader in pharmaceutical manufacturing. Google Glass and augmented reality are among the many innovations being leveraged in Christiana Hospital -Delaware’s largest private employer. Delaware-bred Zip Code Wilmington is quickly becoming a national model for teaching coding and for workforce development.

There are prime opportunities for involvement in politics and policy in Delaware. We spent the last ten months wrestling with the many daunting problems facing the state (e.g. crime in Wilmington, the state budget, energy policy, rising healthcare costs, educational inequality, and the opioid crisis). At the same time, we could look to speakers such as 32-year old Senator Anthony DelCollo (a Leadership Delaware alumnus), 32-year old Mayor of Milford Bryan Shupe, Governor Carney’s Office Policy Director Albert Shields, New Castle County Executive Matt Meyer, Director of the Division of Small Business, Development and Tourism Cerron Cade, and Chief Deputy Attorney General Lakresha Roberts (another Leadership Delaware alumna) as examples of young leaders at the forefront of creating solutions to these challenges. Millennials in Delaware will undoubtedly encounter the same “old boys’ club” politics and entrenched perspectives in Delaware’s public sphere they will find elsewhere. But they have a growing roster of young trailblazers they can follow into public service.

Delaware certainly has more work to do to create an ecosystem and environment that is attractive to young professionals. But if you are frustrated that Delaware’s nightlife and social scene is not more like Philly, D.C., or NYC, here is a suggestion: Visit those places–they’re easily accessible by train. Then make time to appreciate a Delaware Shakespeare production, a concert at the Queen, the Constitution Yards Beer Garden in Wilmington, the Abbott’s Mill Nature Center, Dolce Bakery and Coffee Shop in Milford, Delaware’s lovely beaches, and the many other existing opportunities you might be missing.

And after that, get ready to work and build in a state where young professionals can and do make a major difference.

Atnre Alleyne is the Executive Director of the Delaware Campaign for Achievement Now. Michael Dejos is the Medication Safety Officer at Nemours/Alfred I duPont Hospital for Children. Aiste Foreman is the Director of Advanced Services at Trinity Logistics.  Faith Meisinger-Petit is the Director of Customer Service at CSC. Kate Rudolph is the Corporate Director, Surgical Services at Christiana Care Health System. David Skoranski is an Assistant Public Defender in the Delaware Public Defender’s Office. Stephenie Tatman is an Audit Manager at the State of Delaware. 

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