Rauch Douzinas: Long Island must shed small-town mind-set

Satellite photo of Long Island east end.

Satellite photo of Long Island east end. (Credit: Google Earth, 2008)

Long Island has a vast opportunity to thrive in the 21st-century global economy as part of the greatest metropolitan area in the world. Our location couldn't be better, but success will require that we think regionally, not locally. And that hasn't been easy for Long Island in the past.

A study released in June by The Economist Intelligence Unit ranked 120 cities by ability to attract capital, business, talent and visitors. New York ranked first -- followed by London, Singapore, Hong Kong and Tokyo -- and is predicted to remain "the world's most competitive city" for at least a dozen years.

Long Island's proximity to New York creates a wonderful opportunity -- and an urgency to connect Long Island more closely to the city. That's where the regional thinking comes in.


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Long Island's multitude of government entities reflects its history of thinking locally. According to the Long Island Index, which is published by the Rauch Foundation, Long Island has 665 government entities, including 168 special districts, providing basic services such as fire, police, sanitation, water, schools and libraries. Not only is that fragmentation enormously inefficient, it leaves Long Island splintered into enclaves separated by age, race, income and ethnicity -- at a time when we need to advance as a region. This is a byproduct of a preference for small communities that must now have a regional overlay to be competitive.

We must focus on how Nassau and Suffolk as one entity relate to "the world's most competitive city" and how that relationship can help Long Island grow economically. The key is our connectedness: to each other, to Greater New York and to regionally focused leaders.

Increasing the ease of connecting Long Island to the rest of the metropolitan area with the Long Island Rail Road is, fortunately, underway. East Side Access to Grand Central Terminal is due for completion in 2019. A "second track" from Farmingdale to Ronkonkoma could be completed by 2018, significantly enhancing one of the railroad's most overcrowded lines. And construction of the long-debated "third track" -- better named the "Fast Track" -- on the LIRR Main Line would improve service and reverse commuting.

Reverse commuting should be one of the top priorities of thinking regionally, because we need to make it easier for local companies and institutions to attract talent they need to grow. In the past -- thinking locally -- the reasoning has been that Long Islanders should get the Long Island jobs, but the reality is that those jobs go elsewhere if the talent pool is restricted. Just look at the extraordinary growth of Stamford, Conn., and White Plains, N.Y. Jobs in the region are locating there, where reverse commuting from New York City is easiest.

We need also to support and encourage institutions that look beyond parochial needs at the broader challenges and opportunities facing Long Island. A good example is the Energeia Partnership at Molloy College, which convenes and develops a diverse group of leaders from local public, private and not-for-profit sectors.

Using regional data from the Long Island Index, Energeia educates those leaders on issues such as the fragmented and costly system of government on Long Island, the potential for creating more high-paying jobs and misaligned incentives in educational funding. In doing so, Energeia connects those leaders personally and builds a new generation of leaders thinking regionally.

Long Island's future will be brightest if we make the connections that will enable our region to collaborate and create in ways that will generate that brightness and make it permanent. If we think regionally, we will excel locally.

Nancy Rauch Douzinas is president of the Long Island-based Rauch Foundation.

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