In combating the inevitable Republican fall campaign accusation that he’s anti-business, President Barack Obama would be wise to ally himself with public-spirited business leaders. To pick an example purely out of the blue, there’s New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (founder and majority owner of Bloomberg LP, which owns Bloomberg Businessweek, but see this intriguing New York Times dispatch about a recent private lunch at the White House). Another executive-turned-politician we’ve noticed recently is Delaware Gov. Jack Markell. We noticed him because Markell, a Democrat, dropped by Bloomberg LP’s Manhattan headquarters to chat about what’s new in his home state and to suggest lessons the White House might learn from business-friendly Delaware. He arrived unceremoniously, with a sole state trooper bodyguard and a pair of aides. Confronted with the bounteous offerings at the Bloomberg snack bar, he accepted only a cup of cold water, no ice.
The incoming chairman of the National Governors Association, Markell, 51, began his career as the 13th employee at Nextel (a name he happened to coin, he mentioned). He eventually served as senior vice president for corporate development at Nextel, now part of Sprint (S). His other jobs have included a senior management position at Comcast (CMCSA), a stint as a consultant with McKinsey, and another as a banker at First Chicago. He got into state politics in 1998, when he was elected Delaware Treasurer, and he won the governor’s chair in 2009. He’s soft-spoken, commonsensical, and moderate in tone and policy. Judge for yourself from this recent appearance on MSNBC’s Morning Joe.
Delaware, with its famously management-friendly state court system, is the legal home for incorporation purposes of nearly two-thirds of the Fortune 500. As such, it enjoys unique advantages when it comes to generating white-collar jobs, especially in finance, law, and related fields. Markell notes that in recent months he has helped secure more than 1,000 new jobs for the state at Citigroup (C), Capital One (COF), and other banks. Some of those positions, he acknowledges, transferred in from other states.
Still—and probably more important—Markell has had success helping to reopen shuttered manufacturing facilities previously operated by the likes of General Motors (GM) and Valero (VLO). This has required long negotiations with new owners and will pay off with revived industrial employment, as well as secondary jobs at small businesses that support the factories. Markell has also steered Delaware to victory in Obama’s Race to the Top competition for public school reform. The state’s unemployment rate recently fell from 7.2 percent to 7 percent, substantially below the national rate of 8.3 percent.
“CEOs are looking for a better-educated workforce and consistency and predictability in regulation and the tax system,” Markell says, ignoring his water. That’s the message he uses to market Delaware to business, and he recommends that the Obama administration consider borrowing it in the fall campaign. Note to the White House: Giving Markell some national exposure on the campaign trail might be a good idea, too.