Wednesday, November 26, 2014
Inquirer Daily News

Wilmington in decline, says Wall Street

Corporate center's poverty spreads, tax base 'weakening': Moody's keeps "negative outlook"

Wilmington in decline, says Wall Street

Wilmington, Delaware, which is roughly the same size as rundown Camden, N.J., further up the Delaware River, remains "America's Corporate Capital," with a white-collar downtown office center that's a banking, legal and corporate headquarters and the titular home of more than half the Fortune 500, thanks to business-friendly courts, low corporate fees and a long history of activist business leadership and accomodating politicians.

But Moody's Investors Service says Wilmington's city-government fiscal outlook remains "negative," as Delaware's largest community looks to refinance $37 million of its $285 million  public debt.

In his report, analyst Dan Seymour praised the city's "conservative and forward-looking" financial management under new mayor Dennis P. Williams, and the "substantial corporate and commercial presence" by DuPont, Bank of America, JPMorgan Chase, Capital One and other corporations whose buildings tower over the partly-renovated Market St. retail and theater district and the Christina riverfront.

But the "high poverty rate" in the city's predominantly slum neighborhoods (scarred by an aggressive drug trade and regular shootings), along with "high fixed costs, a heavy pension burden, economically sensitive revenues, and weakening wealth levels," plus heavy debt from past borrowing, makes it more likely Moody's will cut the city's Aa2 bond rating, boosting future borrowing costs, Seymour warned. He affirmed Wilmington's "Negative Outlook" from Moody's.

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Joseph N. DiStefano
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PhillyDeals posts raw drafts and updates of Joseph N. DiStefano's columns and stories about Philly-area finance, investment, commercial real estate, tech, hiring and public spending, which he's been writing since 1989, mostly for the Philadelphia Inquirer.

DiStefano studied economics, history and a little engineering at Penn, taught writing at St. Joe's, and has written the book Comcasted, more than a thousand columns, and thousands of articles, and raised six children with his wife, who is a saint.

Reach Joseph N. at JoeD@phillynews.com or 215 854 5194.

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