Focus on LI jobs to win funds

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed a new law

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has signed a new law allowing for creation of municipal land banks, which take control of problem properties and then redevelop or dispose of them. (July 27, 2011) (Credit: Charles Eckert)

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Long Island has long needed a regional economic development voice. Now, we have a start.

Last week, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo came here to roll out a regional economic development council -- one of 10 across the state. The idea is sound: People in each region, who know their local economy better than Albany does, pick the best job-creation strategies, then compete with the other regions for state funding.

This will create a real incentive for regional thinking, because the council will not be developing just another plan. It will have immediate economic consequences: The best plans win a share of $200 million in state grants and tax credits. So our new regional council has to rise to the occasion and quickly put together a five-year strategy that can win Long Island these coveted job-creating funds.

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"The state cannot develop the economy on Long Island," Cuomo said last Wednesday, in launching the council at the State University of New York's College at Old Westbury. "We can incentivize the process. We can provide leadership for the process."

The long-term incentive is $1 billion in state funding, which includes both money from existing state programs and a $200-million carrot for excellent strategic planning. Some of that initial money, for example, could fund Accelerate Long Island, an initiative that links the Island's research institutions and its leading business group, the Long Island Association, in an effort to turn scientific research into new companies and jobs that stay here.

The state's leadership includes creation of a new "consolidated funding application," one-stop shopping that would make seeking further state funds less complex. The leadership also includes the role of Lt. Gov. Robert Duffy, who will chair each of the 10 regional councils and lead a committee to encourage cooperation among the 10 regions and referee any skirmishes that break out.

The two co-chairs of the Long Island council are Stuart Rabinowitz, president of Hofstra University, and Kevin Law, president of the LIA. Its staff will be drawn from a team of state agencies, led by Andrea Lohneiss, the regional director of Empire State Development.

Putting the council together wasn't easy. It had to represent many interests, but not be so huge that it couldn't function. Some sectors -- industrial development agencies, for one -- are not on the council itself, but will play a significant role in the working groups that will handle different pieces of the strategy. It will all require some cat-herding.

There's not a lot of time for Long Island to get its act together. From the time the new council has its first meeting, in a week or so, until the first application deadline in mid-November, that's only three months to come up with a winning job-growth plan. To do that, members of the council and the working groups will have to balance their own egos and the interests of their organizations against the needs of the region as a whole. That's easier said than done, but Cuomo cannily realized that the only way to foster regional thinking is to make it pay in dollars and cents.

Put simply: If we work together, we can get more state help to build our economy. If we can't, we won't. hN

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