Club Level Feature: McConnell Johnson

McConnell Johnson – Wilmington: A City Powers Up

Just a half-hour’s drive south of Philadelphia, Wilmington, Delaware, has long been a center of international business. Through the decades, Delaware’s favorable corporate and lending climate has attracted countless corporate entities and financial institutions to the state’s only urban center. Now the city of 70,000 is zeroing in on another claim to fame: that of a rising star in the digital economy.

In recent years, thanks to active partnerships between private enterprise, the nonprofit sector, and local learning institutions, Wilmington’s business complexion is taking on a subtle but noticeable electronic cast. Rising alongside venerable industries like banking and law, new projects here hint at the start of something big: co-working offices, digital studios, coding academies, and tech training schools.

Wilmington’s fresh energy is unmistakable at 1313 Innovation, a co-working and prototyping space within Hercules Plaza, a corporate center just steps away from the city’s Brandywine River Greenway. Established three years ago by the McConnell Companies, a real estate and development group headquartered here, 1313 Innovation features advanced digital capabilities, 3D printers, and on-demand office space. It’s grown into a local nexus where entrepreneurs, technologists, and community members gather to map their vision of a more connected future.

In 2015 alone, 1313 Innovation hosted 3,000 people for work, learning sessions, and events by groups like Girl Develop It, Open Data Delaware, First State .NET, Barrel of Makers, and Delaware Tech Meetup. 1313 Innovation also serves as the force behind Tech2gether, an annual event that showcases startup companies, emerging technology, and opportunities for connections in Wilmington and the region.

None of this comes as a surprise to Paul McConnell, a board member of the British American Business Council of Greater Philadelphia and founder of the McConnell Companies. “It’s taken years,” allows McConnell.  “But we’ve always believed that by being active participants in the business and nonprofit communities, we would be able to change the direction and embrace the future.”

“Eight years ago, everybody was feeling the recession. Everybody was going back into their shells,” says Scott Johnson, McConnell’s real estate partner. “As a business community, we became disengaged. But Paul and I made a conscious decision that we needed to jump back in.”

The partners’ first move was to work with the state of Delaware to bring a “fiber hotel” to downtown Wilmington. “There was this impression that Wilmington was disconnected,” says Johnson. “So we decided to do something about it.”

In 2012, an agreement between McConnell Johnson Real Estate, IPR International, the State of Delaware, and fiber providers Sunesys and Fibertech Networks brought the Wilmington Carrier Hotel Project to life at 1201 North Market Street, the city’s tallest office tower. With over 400 strands of dark fiber (fiber optic cable available for lease), the building is now Delaware’s most-connected facility and provides a vital, high-speed link between area networks and the global information system.

Just as the waters of nearby Brandywine River once powered Wilmington’s seminal industry—the DuPont powder mills—the city’s new fiber hotel brings a steady, business-critical flow of information into and out of the city. Needless to say, bandwidth is no longer a problem for new ventures looking to make their mark here. “The response to the facility has been huge,” says Johnson. “All of a sudden everyone’s talking about it. We have the fiber network to support business, and we have businesses coming here because of it. Everybody’s looking at Wilmington differently.”

The city’s new trajectory is visible along Market Street, Wilmington’s shopping district which is now blossoming with bistros, cafés, bookstores, artisanal bars, and live-and-work apartment spaces. Young creatives and professionals, alert to the city’s centrality and low cost of living, are beginning to take note.

“We’ve turned into a better-connected community,” says McConnell. “Wilmington has a positive energy now, and that energy will spill into new businesses, new ideas, and bring new people here. We’ve reached a tipping point. It’s very gratifying to see.”


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  • Forensic Resolutions
  • Johnson, Kendall & Johnson, Inc.
  • Johnson Matthey
  • Morgan Lewis
  • Olympus
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