A WilmU Alumna Replaces Alan Levin as Director of the Delaware Economic Development Office.
Bernice Whaley faces several challenges as the new director of the Delaware Economic Development Office (DEDO). Primary among them is finding the financial wherewithal to attract industries to the state now that DEDO’s war chest — the Delaware Strategic Fund — has been cut by more than half, from $22.5 million in fiscal year 2015 to $10 million in 2016.
Another challenge is purely academic: completing work on her doctorate at Wilmington University, where she earned a master’s degree in 2007. Those who know her have little doubt that Whaley is up to both tasks.
Perhaps the person best suited to comment on her abilities is Alan Levin, the man she worked for and succeeded as DEDO director. She first came under his tutelage during her 25-year career with Happy Harry’s Drug Stores, a chain founded by Levin’s father, Harry. Under the son’s leadership, the company grew from 13 to 76 stores before it was sold to Walgreen’s in 2006.
“When I think of Bernice,” Levin told Delaware Business Times, “I think of a young woman that worked in our office handling purchase orders and progressing up a ladder and becoming the first woman in the company to handle distribution for a major drug chain, shipping hundreds of millions of dollars in inventory. She is a very good listener in the sense that she will take in all sides of an issue before she formulates a position on something — that’s her strong suit.”
Levin, who now works for restaurant group SoDel Concepts, was named DEDO director by Gov. Jack Markell when Markell took office in January of 2009. He soon recruited Whaley as his deputy director. Of her appointment to the directorship, he says, “She has always been capable of leading anything,” he said in DBT. “The governor was wise to select her.”
Whaley joined Happy Harry’s after earning her undergrad degree in business administration/marketing management from the University of Delaware.
In 2005, she decided to go for her master’s at Wilmington University. At the time, she was vice president of inventory management and distribution for the drug store chain. WilmU was the perfect fit, she says. “The university is friendly and accommodating to the full-time working adult learner. It also offers a career-focused, practical program.”
She earned her master’s in 18 months, and at graduation received the Master of Science Award for Academic and Business Excellence. “That was quite a surprise and an honor,” she says.
Whaley seems to be enjoying juggling her duties as DEDO director and her course load as she works toward a DBA degree. “My professors are both friendly and helpful,” she says. “They often offer connections and application to ‘the real world’ and to current issues due to their own career experiences. They encourage us to question things and to express our opinions and ideas about the topics being discussed in class. And of importance, we are given opportunities to learn from our peers.”
Whaley assumes the DEDO post at a time when Delaware’s unemployment rate is at 4.6 percent — a major improvement from a recession high of 8.7 percent — and when a number of large-scale manufacturing projects are helping to restore an economic base recovering from several major losses, including the Chrysler plant in New Castle County and DuPont’s Seaford plant in Sussex.
She told DBT that her office will “continue to impress businesses with what we do best.”
“Delaware is a great state,” she said, “and everyone is willing to work with new businesses and existing businesses to make this an environment to grow and operate in. We are going to put our resources towards those types of efforts.” WU