Leonard Poveromo, executive director of the 8-month-old Composite Prototyping Center in Plainview, wants to make manufacturing big again on Long Island. He faces a formidable task. The sector averaged 71,900 jobs in 2014, a far cry from the 139,200 average in 1990. And long gone are the days when a manufacturer was the largest private-sector employer on the Island, as aerospace manufacturer Northrop Grumman once was.

Still, Poveromo, 67, a retired Grumman chemical engineer, believes the Island's manufacturing industry can regain its vibrancy. And he's betting that advanced composites -- lightweight, strong materials made from resin and fibers -- will lead the way. Composites, which are metal-like, will be used in such things as aircraft, windmills and cars and trucks.

Poveromo doesn't foresee a large-scale return of manufacturing jobs here because the industry is highly automated and needs fewer workers. But he believes the composite center can spur innovation that could translate into more sales and jobs at the 800 local defense and aerospace manufacturing companies.

At the center, created by the Long Island Forum for Technology and funded with $15 million in state grants, manufacturers receive training and use cutting-edge equipment for designing, prototyping and testing composite parts. The equipment includes a 3-D printer for making prototypes. The center is working with just six clients now, but Poveromo is hoping more companies will use it and then make their own investments in equipment and training.

Even before the center opened, it bid for a $70 million award that would have designated it as a federal innovation institute for composite materials. It lost out to a consortium led by the University of Tennessee-Knoxville, but Poveromo still sees opportunity in that loss.

"We have reached out to some of the winning team members, and there may be work we can cooperate with them on," he said.

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Whose idea was it to create the center?

It started with Ken Morrelly (a veteran Long Island technology executive, who died in 2009). Ken asked me to help him put together a conference [in 2008] to see if there was an interest in advanced composites on Long Island. And Hofstra hosted it, and we had 140 to 150 people show up, representing manufacturers in New York State. As a result of that, he was able to convince the state that there was interest.

Why are advanced composites so important in manufacturing today?

Composites will affect everything we do. For every manufactured part, composites will at least be considered the primary material of construction. Before that it was the age of metals. So in order for [Long Island manufacturers] to survive, they are going to have to eventually learn how to work with advanced composites. The concept of the center is to provide the capability for them to get involved without having to invest the capital [initially]. So in that sense they are the proving and testing ground.

What is your goal?

I think there are two elements of it. One is job creation within the world of small and medium-size companies. Secondly, it's an educational objective to introduce students to engineering at a very early age. And STEM [science, technology, engineering and math] is the part of it that we are addressing at the high school level. It's an initial activity that we have launched with three high schools: Syosset, Huntington and Bethpage. We brought in six of their top students. We're working with Vaughn College in Queens. We went through a 15-hour course. They built a part, damaged it and rebuilt it. Manufacturing is not a bad word. You can get a very good job if you are an engineer who understands how to do manufacturing.

What is the greatest challenge facing Long Island manufacturers today?

Working within the framework of the cost structure on Long Island, the cost of housing, the cost of energy. If we can do things in composites that are done with fewer people, and have better ideas than other people have, then that's an advantage. The big advantage we have is we have a resource of people and education. The high schools and colleges here are tremendous. The key, when we do all this training with people, is to keep them here. To keep them here we have to have companies that are willing to hire them, to have some of the products that we are talking about.

CORPORATE SNAPSHOT

NAME: Leonard Poveromo, executive director of the Composite Prototyping Center in Plainview.

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WHAT IT DOES: Helps small- to medium-size manufacturers design and build prototypes using cutting-edge equipment and materials.

EMPLOYEES: 10

OPERATING BUDGET: $1.5 million