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Former Suffolk IDA chief Bruce Ferguson dies at 72

Bruce E. Ferguson, former executive director and chief

Bruce E. Ferguson, former executive director and chief executive officer of the Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency, died March 23. He was 72. Credit: Suffolk County Industrial Development Agency

Bruce E. Ferguson helped create thousands of jobs in Suffolk County over 30 years by negotiating tax-break deals that led more than 300 companies, including Canon U.S.A. and CA Technologies, to expand.

The former executive director of the county’s Industrial Development Agency died Saturday of respiratory failure. He was 72.

Under Ferguson's leadership, the IDA played a crucial role in attracting software developer CA to move from Garden City to Islandia and camera and imaging giant Canon to relocate from Lake Success to Melville. Together, the projects brought 5,000-plus jobs and $1.5 billion in investment to Suffolk.

“Those were the home runs, but Bruce knew economic development is primarily about singles and doubles – the small and medium-sized projects, projects that aren’t so high profile,” said Anthony J. Catapano, who worked alongside Ferguson for 27 years at the IDA and now serves as its executive director. “Whether it was one job or hundreds . . . each project mattered to Bruce.”

Ferguson, of Jamesport, was also committed to helping hospitals, colleges and organizations that care for the developmentally disabled via tax-free bond financing from the IDA and subsequently the county’s Economic Development Corp. He continued this work after leaving county service by helping to found Southold Town’s Local Development Corp. in 2014.

Ferguson was born Oct. 23, 1946, in Queens, the only child of Jack and Nancy (Anderson) Ferguson. He was raised in Stewart Manor and graduated from high school there in 1964.

“The friends that he had as a little kid became lifelong friends,” said Ferguson’s widow, Dorothy, whom he married in 1981.  His mother died when he was 12 and his father when Ferguson was in his 20s. “So, the friends from childhood were important to him,” she said.

Ferguson earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from Adelphi University. Later, he received a master’s degree in public administration from LIU/CW Post.

In the mid-1970s, Ferguson spent three years in the Solomon Islands as a Peace Corps volunteer, assisting in economic development. He met Queen Elizabeth II as a Peace Corps delegate when she visited the islands, Dorothy (Kelly) Ferguson said.

Ferguson joined Suffolk County government in 1980 and was recommended by his then-boss, Lee Koppelman, the county's master planner, to take over the IDA, which in 1985 was in turmoil after the sudden resignations of its chairman and executive director.

Ferguson led the Suffolk IDA under six county executives, Republicans and Democrats. He resigned in 2012 after County Executive Steve Bellone signaled he wanted to replace Ferguson with a political consultant. Ferguson went on to open a development consulting business with his sons, John and Tommy.

Asked to describe their father, the sons   said he was "a thoughtful, kind and gentle man.”

Tommy recalled his father's five-year plan to keep open the boys’ elementary school, Our Lady of Mercy Regional School in Cutchogue, for what ended up being more than 10 years. “He always stepped up in helping others because it was right, not because he wanted praise or accolades,” Tommy said.

A wake will be held Wednesday from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. at the Tuthill-Mangano Funeral Home, 406 East Main St. in Riverhead. The funeral Mass will be celebrated Thursday at 10 a.m.  in St. John The Evangelist Roman Catholic Church, 546 St. John’s Place in Riverhead. 

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