Paul McConnell: The Power of Education and Economic Development
By Alicia Talucci, BABC Coordinator
Paul McConnell is proof of the American Dream. The year is 1974, and Paul is graduating from the University of Delaware. Paul and his brother had just started their business McConnell Brothers Inc. Prior to officially starting their business, the brothers worked together in construction to make money. Upon graduation, they had enough funds to buy their first property, fix it up, and sell it. Then they bought two more. Within the first five years of working together, they had renovated more than 100 homes. Since then, Paul has continuously developed properties, and his development projects now total more than five million square feet.
Paul attributes his success to working hard, networking, and staying current. “My success has been based on a lot of people helping me. I’ve been very fortunate in that regard.” He says, to be successful in business, you must constantly work with other people that can bring something else to the table. Developing partnerships, working well, and communicating with others is the key. At one point in his career, he had more than 100 partnerships. He is also constantly brainstorming new ideas, and reading as much as possible. Currently, Paul is dedicated to education and economic development; an area he has promoted and supported during the past several years.
Paul, the current CEO of McConnell Johnson Real Estate LLC, BABC Board and Club Level Member, realizes the importance of uniting education and economic development. Paul has spent the last four decades becoming an inspiration for innovation, especially for aspiring entrepreneurs. Paul has started several programs for economically disadvantaged youth as well as those with learning differences. Most recently, his Alma Mater created the Paul and Linda McConnell Youth Entrepreneurship Initiative. The goal of the initiative is to cultivate the belief that entrepreneurship can lead to a successful career, using education to develop that success, especially in youth. “Universities are all about the future. When you see the universities connect, and then business, it just creates this great atmosphere for talent, thinking, and doing.” The Initiative creates opportunities for students to flourish. Today, there are more than 3,000 students from 35 countries involved in the program.
A prosperous entrepreneur, Paul was inducted into the Delaware Business Hall of Fame in October 2016. The night was not only commemorative to Paul’s success, but special to him as he was inducted with his own mentor, former President of Commerce Bank Delaware, Fred Sears. Sears not only inspired Paul to get involved in business, but he helped finance Paul’s business. The two met Paul’s sophomore year of college at his fraternity where Fred was a guest speaker. As a political science major, Paul helped run Fred’s campaign when he was Director of Economic Development for the City of Wilmington. The rest is history.
Paul has been a major influencer in both the real estate development and start-up communities in Wilmington and the surrounding areas, founding 1313 Innovation along the way. 1313 Innovation’s mission is to “cultivate an environment of partnership; providing mentoring and education that attracts and develops talent for a stronger community,” a true testament to his goals of cultivating education and economic development.
McConnell Johnson Real Estate LLC joined the BABC in 2011 because the UK is one of Delaware’s largest trading partners. “There are a lot of international businesses in Wilmington. Flights are easy back and forth, so why not foster those relationships.” In February 2016, the company became a Club Level Member, and is a major participant in events. The BABC has provided valuable introductions and networking opportunities for Delawareans in an international setting, and has attracted top talent in the region to open greater opportunities.
While some consider the close proximity to Philadelphia, Washington DC, and New York City a threat, Paul considers Delaware’s proximity an opportunity. “We definitely don’t want to take business from Philadelphia; we want a more collaborative effort.” With the entertainment, restaurants, and housing boom in Philadelphia, Paul believes the import of talent for jobs and the export of talent for recreation and entertainment aspect can be a challenge. “70% of our millennials that work here live in Philadelphia. We have the banking and tech jobs, but we want to have both.” Along with banking and technology jobs, Delaware provides one of the nation’s top life sciences and pharmaceutical job opportunities. Together, Delaware, Pennsylvania, and New Jersey represent more than 80% of the US pharmaceutical industry.
Along with excellent professional opportunities in finance and health sectors, among others, Delaware has been a business-oriented state for the majority of its history. The legal and tax systems are very beneficial toward corporate business. Delaware boasts a low corporate tax rate at just 8.7%, no sales or personal property tax at the state or local level, and no inventory tax. The business scene has always been very open to international relations. Easy access to seaports and airports allow Wilmington’s international trade partners to continue to be successful. “Most recently, many of the pharma companies and start-ups have come from international (companies). DuPont was one of the first companies to build a manufacturing plant in China,” explained Paul. The long standing culture of international partnership as well as the tax and legal advantages given to businesses in the state of Delaware has made Wilmington the ideal place for many businesses to call home.
With Brexit as well as the results of the November 2016 Election, there is a positive future. However, one thing that Paul is sure of is the effect education will have on growth of business and a bright future for the area. “This region is poised to take off. We have connected education to our business community. I think we are more connected today than we have ever been, and I don’t think this election will set us back. It may accelerate certain change, but maybe people will be open to new ideas,” he explained. At the university level, the most challenging issue is the high cost of education. But Paul has an idea for that too, “Maybe there are different programs that can be sponsored by business, or maybe different ways industry can connect to the universities to help defray the crazy cost escalation that has occurred.”
From his work ethic to his philanthropic attitude, no one can deny the impact Paul McConnell has had on those around him. He has worked to build his business from the ground up, and is now looking long term to expand the future for great minds. Paul’s focus on education is admirable. He understands the future of business lies with the next generation, and he wants to continue to make Wilmington competitive, but also collaborative with the big cities that surround it. His constant motivation to reinvent and improve his business where necessary is a lesson for all entrepreneurs. Paul is a man who sees a bigger picture for local and international business.
The BABC is honored to work with Paul and with McConnell Johnson Real Estate. McConnell Johnson will host our annual Wilmington, Delaware event later this year. The event brings a high ranking government official, foreign diplomats, and local business leaders together to discuss current global economic affairs, political climate, and social issues and how these factors can affect business on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Stay tuned for the program date, speakers, and topic.