The nationwide boom in mergers and acquisitions has hit Long Island, stoking deep-seated fears that out-of-state businesses will buy companies here and move jobs elsewhere.
In the past month, two of the region's largest corporations -- Pall Corp. and Dealertrack Technologies -- have announced multibillion-dollar agreements to be acquired by companies in Washington, D.C., and Atlanta, respectively. Neither company has said it will move or reduce operations; Dealertrack, in fact, says it will stay and grow here.
Still, economic development officials are nervous.
"If past is prologue, this is troubling," said Jim Morgo, a member of the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council. "These deals are often precursors to an ultimate departure."
Long Islanders have long been wary of outsiders buying local companies, a fear cemented in 1994 when one of the region's largest employers, Grumman Aerospace Corp. of Bethpage, was taken over by Los Angeles-based Northrop, leading to thousands of job losses.
More recently, Holtsville-based Symbol Technologies, a bar code pioneer, was bought by Motorola of Schaumburg, Illinois, in 2007 for $3.9 billion, leading to about 400 fewer jobs here. And OSI Pharmaceuticals, once the bright hope of Long Island's biotech industry, was bought for $4 billion in 2010 by Japanese drugmaker Astellas Pharma, which gradually closed all its local facilities.
The Pall and Dealertrack mergers come as large companies have steadily been leaving Long Island. Since 2003, more than 30 corporations that were traded on major stock exchanges have either been bought, moved or have folded.
Yet the impacts of those losses are not entirely clear, as the economy has evolved and new companies have emerged.
The agreements to sell Pall, of Port Washington, and Dealertrack, of Lake Success, come as nationwide mergers and acquisitions have hit their highest point since 2007, with $816 billion in deals so far this year, according to the financial information company Thomson Reuters. That spree, up 41 percent from this time last year, is fueled by low interest rates and a push by companies to increase sales by merging with competitors.
"To get growth today, it's all about acquisitions," said Irwin Simon, chief executive of The Hain Celestial Group of Lake Success.
Economists and corporate officials say it's wrong to assume a local economy loses when a hometown company is bought.
Take Dealertrack, which sells software to car dealers and announced Monday that it had agreed to be acquired for $4 billion by Cox Automotive of Atlanta, which also owns Kelley Blue Book. If approved, the deal marks one of the largest sales ever of a Long Island tech company.
"It's good for Long Island," said Gary Quinn, chief executive of FalconStor Software Inc. of Melville. "It shows software companies can succeed here."
Dealertrack, which employs nearly 550 people on Long Island, was founded in 2000 and has more than tripled its annual revenue, to $854.4 million, since 2010. Last fall, the company broke ground on a 233,000-square-foot, $112 million headquarters in North Hills and agreed to add more than 350 jobs in exchange for $12 million in future state tax breaks and grants.
The company's co-president, Raj Sundaram, said the acquisition will not change those plans. "We are committed to the new building, which we are moving to in 2017," he said. We have been here for 15 years . . . and there are no plans to leave."
Pall, which makes high-tech filters and purification devices, has said less about its plans.
The 69-year-old company, which employs around 700 people on Long Island, announced in May that it had agreed to be acquired by Danaher Corp. of Washington for $13.8 billion. Danaher and Pall, which had $2.789 billion in revenue last year and has been on Long Island for decades, have declined to discuss what the deal will mean to local operations.
Costs of doing business on LI
Officials fear the longterm outcome won't be good for Long Island. Even if Pall and Dealertrack don't leave immediately, they say, their parent companies will eventually take a hard look at taxes, salary requirements, energy prices and the other costs of doing business on Long Island.
"That's when the rubber hits the road," said Bruce Ferguson, former executive director of the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency. "Clearly the costs of doing business here are different than Atlanta."
For instance, after Voxx International of Hauppauge announced in January that it was moving its headquarters to Orlando, Florida, the electronics maker told county officials that it was simply too expensive to stay on Long Island.
"It is not only the high taxes and utility rates in New York and Suffolk County but also such things as workers' compensation and health insurance that make it impossible from a competitiveness point of view for us to remain here," Voxx chief financial officer Charles Stoehr wrote in March to the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency.
Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association, the region's largest business group, said the area needs to better emphasize the advantages of running a business here, including the proximity to New York City, the well-educated workforce and strong research institutions.
It's distressing when local companies are bought, Law said. But it's also inevitable.
"We are part of a global economy," he said. "We can't put a fence around Long Island to prevent companies from leaving."
Even longtime Long Island boosters say that in business, geographic loyalty has its limits.
James McCann, founder and longtime chief executive of gift retailer 1-800flowers.com, said he is not looking to sell his company. But if a buyer were to "come along and say, '$100 a share, boys!' -- we'll take a look at it," said McCann, whose stock closed Friday at $10.59.
Even when corporate mergers lead to job losses, they often leave something else behind: money.
Reinvesting after merger
Both Dealertrack and Pall are slotted to be sold at prices significantly higher than the value of the companies' stock on the days the deals were announced. (Dealertrack's sale price is 60 percent higher, and Pall's is 28 percent.) That means some shareholders, including executives who live on Long Island, stand to walk away with millions.
Mark Lesko, executive director of Accelerate Long Island, a nonprofit that supports tech companies, said those executives could become a tremendous asset if they reinvest that money in local startups. "If those folks stay here and start venture capital funds -- that could be a huge windfall for Long Island," Lesko said.
While dozens of companies have left Long Island in the last decade, it's not clear the economy has suffered as a result.
Between 2003 and 2013, the number of companies with more than 100 employees on Long Island fell 3 percent, or by eight businesses. Yet the total number of jobs increased by 3 percent during that period. And while median household income here dipped by about 5 percent, it has fared better than the national decline of 11 percent, according to U.S. Census data.
Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra University, said Long Island is holding its own.
"The overall data shows that we're creating jobs," he said. "And it's not all Burger King and landscaping."
Anne Shybunko-Moore, president of Hauppauge aerospace company GSE Dynamics Inc., said Long Island needs to focus on the future. Grumman, she said, isn't coming back. "We need to get over it," she said.
With James T. Madore
and Carrie Mason-Draffen
THE DEALS, AND THEIR AFTERMATH
Key acquisitions and mergers involving Long Island businesses since 1994.
1994: Northrop buys Grumman of Bethpage for $2.1 billion; local jobs shrink from 9,000 at time of merger to about 550 now.
2007: Motorola buys Symbol Technologies of Holtsville for $3.9 billion; local jobs shrink from 1,200 to about 800.
2010: Japanese drugmaker Astellas buys OSI Pharmaceuticals for $4 billon; 240 local jobs gone by the end of 2014.
2014: Akorn Inc. buys Hi-Tech Pharmacal of Amityville for $640 million; local employment expands modestly to 380.
2014: Cobham PLC. buys Aeroflex Holding of Plainview for $1.46 billion; Cobham says it will keep all 280 jobs on Long Island.