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Newsday panel: Crisis requires creative thinking to get LI economy moving again

Local leaders, who are devising an economic recovery plan for Nassau and Suffolk, are discussing what local governments can do to help small businesses get back on their feet, and answering your questions.

Local government and small businesses will need to stay flexible and explore creative solutions to foster economic recuperation from the pandemic, a panel of leaders in charge of spearheading Long Island’s recovery said Friday.

“We’re faced with a crisis and a disruption of monumental proportions, but with such an experience comes an opportunity, and the opportunity is to think differently about how to make things work,” said David Kapell, the former mayor of Greenport and member of the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council.

Possibilities discussed during the Newsday Live webinar included allowing restaurants to use empty retail space to increase the number of customers they can serve while still adhering to occupancy restrictions, attracting city companies to Long Island, and speeding up timelines for certain building projects, which in turn will create more jobs.

Panelists urged business owners to fill out a survey  by the state’s economic development agency, Empire State Development (nwsdy.li/REDCsurvey). There, they will be able to give their thoughts on needs, challenges and issues presented by the pandemic. Their suggestions will be sent to the local council, which will identify what sectors have proved resilient in recent months and what needs to change to stimulate growth. Long Island’s REDC is one of 10 in the state, each of which is tasked with putting together a local plan for recovery.

Unprecedented times may call for unprecedented solutions, said Kevin Law, president and CEO of the Long Island Association business group. “We need our local government leaders to be creative and open-minded to repurpose ... other real estate sites to help our small businesses,” said Law, also co-vice chair of the REDC.

“Retail has taken a hit,” he said. As the weather gets colder, “there may be opportunities for these [restaurants] that have been reliant on outdoor dining and can only use 50% of the tables indoors. You’re going to see some vacant retail places be repurposed for ... pop-up restaurants where they can almost have a satellite [location].”

That will mean fast-tracking permits, which panelists said should be considered. Another idea is to spotlight certain restaurants and other small businesses and use them to hold local government events, like town halls, that will be live-streamed to constituents, said Tracey Edwards, a former Huntington town councilwoman and former REDC member.

Local leaders could also consider restructuring regulations and zoning to take pressure off of businesses, Kapell said. And then there’s the fact that Long Island has empty space during a time when social distancing is at a premium, said Hofstra University president Stuart Rabinowitz, co-vice chair of the REDC.  

“New York City is getting empty in terms of commercial and industrial and retail and so on,” Rabinowitz said. “We on the island would be a perfect place for them to relocate and I really think right now, we should have a blitz of trying to attract New York City companies that don’t want to be in those crowded areas with elevators [going up] 27 floors.”

In addition to the REDC survey, comments and suggestions may be emailed to liredc@esd.ny.gov

Business owners can fill out the survey here:

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