DOVER — Looking to energize a long-dormant Kent County economic prospect, Delaware’s congressional delegation has secured $5 million in federal funding to jolt Garrison Oak Business and Technology Park.
The substation built in the 390-acre campus will generate upward of 100 megawatts of power by the time it comes online in 2023. Since reliable power for manufacturing and food processing equipment is a key factor in site selection, it will better position Dover to compete for prospects.
“We’ve had one company approach us, looking to operate 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, and they need the power to do that,” Dover Mayor Robin Christiansen told the Delaware Business Times. “The ability to provide electricity, throughout the year, is going to give us more flexibility in what we can bring to this site.”
The $5 million in funding was part of $97 million in funding obtained by U.S. Sens. Tom Carper and Chris Coons, and U.S. Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester, through the first federal earmarks in more than a decade. Since Democrats control Congress, the practice of earmarks, or discretionary spending on projects outside of competitively-bid processes, was re-established in this spending bill.
The land off White Oak Road used to be farmed by the Garrison family, before it was bought by Dover officials in 1999 with $2 million in state funding, with the assistance of then-Gov. Carper and the state economic development office. Two years after that, city officials authorized spending $14.7 million in water and sewer infrastructure.
At the time, city officials were courting a computer chip manufacturer, and the prospect ultimately fell through. Garrison Oak’s biggest victory was landing Uzin Utz, a German flooring company, in 2015 with the help of $419,000 in state grants. Advantech Inc. also opened up an office there, and Dover welcomed a solar plant on the site.
To this day, there are between 10 to 14 lots available for lease at Garrison Oak. If the park is completely built out, it could bring around 300 jobs to the state capital. Kent Economic Partnership Executive Director Linda Parkowski told DBT that her office actively submits the site for consideration for prospects on a regular basis today.
Sen. Carper compared Garrison Oak’s disjointed, decades-long journey to the Lockheed C-5 Galaxy taking off at the nearby Dover Air Force Base: a slow start down the runway, but ramping up to a faster pace for take-off.
“We’re going to push this. With $5 million to provide electricity to this industrial park, this baby is going to fly,” Carper said on Friday afternoon.
Coons added that not only does Garrison Oak have the potential to deliver 300 jobs to Dover, but it has the promise of supporting 300 families in the Kent County region with high-skill positions.
“We are in a fierce competition for the jobs of the future. Delaware has long-relied on high-quality manufacturing jobs in the past. If we want to attract them again, we’ve got a highway, we’ve got roads, we’ve got sewers, we’ve got a great workforce. All we needed was more power,” the senator said.
Christiansen has high hopes for the site, but noted that there were some challenges ahead. Direct access to Garrison Oak from the highway still does not exist, and he long hoped for an interchange there to help access and draw more attention to the site.
In 2021, the Dover/Kent Metropolitan Planning Organization unveiled recommendations, chief among them constructing a new road from Garrison Oak, running parallel to Route 1 and connecting to the North Little Creek interchange. That project would cost $4.7 million.
The Dover mayor is also awaiting the joint use agreement on the Civil Air Terminal, a 20-acre facility with two of the largest runways in the state.
The new deal would raise takeoffs and landings from 13,500 to 25,000 per year, creating more possibilities for air cargo, airline service operations and redevelopment. It would also jumpstart local development in similar sites like Garrison Oak for supporting businesses.
“There’s all this land around Garrison Oak, and it’s due for residential growth and we know we need affordable housing in this state,” Christiansen said. “But Dover is going to be the place to be, just wait.”