Last summer, local officials scrambled to respond to a call from Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo for recommendations for immediate action to revive the region’s sagging economy.
The Long Island Regional Economic Development Council sent 53 pages of recommendations to Albany in late September. The council is still awaiting a response from Empire State Development, the state’s primary business-aid agency, council co-vice chairman Kevin Law said Thursday.
The state never released the council’s 2020 Recovery Plan publicly; Newsday obtained a copy last week via a Freedom of Information Act request.
Among the plan’s recommendations: jump-start languishing road projects, make outdoor dining on public streets permanent, expand "buy local" campaigns and train people to work on the proposed wind farms off Long Island.
The LI council, a group of 21 business executives, labor leaders, educators and nonprofit officials appointed by Cuomo, is one of 10 economic development councils across the state asked to submit recommendations.
"This report provides our region with a road map to not only recover from the COVID-19 pandemic impacts, but allows us to reimagine our future over the next decade and beyond," said Law, former president and CEO of the Long Island Association business group.
He said while the LIREDC hasn’t yet received a response from Albany, "this report certainly is not stale in any way...So, I’m optimistic about now pursuing the implementation of some of these recommendations."
ESD spokeswoman Kristin Devoe said Thursday, "Many of the suggestions from the regions have been incorporated into the state’s overall recovery strategy."
She cited $23 million in grants to 40 manufacturers of masks, face shields and other Personal Protection Equipment, or PPE, in the state; a campaign to encourage mask wearing, and $125 million in the new state budget to feed the poor and commercialize medical inventions to combat infectious diseases.
The LIREDC plan identifies six transportation projects and 12 building projects that would employ thousands of construction workers and address longstanding problems such as traffic congestion and affordable housing -- if they receive governmental approvals and/or funding.
The transportation projects include completion of the Route 347 reconstruction in Suffolk County, a new Long Island Rail Road station at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton and improvements to the interchange connecting the Southern State/Meadowbrook parkways in Hempstead Town and the Oakdale merge point of the Southern State Parkway and Montauk Highway.
"These aren’t pie-in-the-sky recommendations...There is now going to be a funding source," Law said, referring to President Joe Biden’s $2 trillion infrastructure proposal. The LIREDC’s other co-vice chairman, Hofstra University president Stuart Rabinowitz, wasn’t available to comment on Thursday.
Among the building projects endorsed by the council are the Heartland mini city in Brentwood, Nassau Hub Innovation Center in Uniondale, Gyrodyne in St. James, Enterprise Park in Calverton, a convention center in Ronkonkoma and five housing developments.
Besides construction, the council recommended that state and local governments make permanent the rule changes that permitted restaurants to offer outdoor dining at the pandemic’s height last year. That and expanded advertising campaigns to encourage consumers to patronize local businesses and follow COVID safety protocols would help revive Long Island’s Main Streets, the council said.
Hard-hit fishermen and farmers would benefit from greater access to sell food to programs for the poor, including an end to restrictions on food pantries buying fresh seafood, the council wrote in its economic recovery plan.
Technology startups, which have struggled to collaborate with each other and investors because of restrictions on in-person meetings, would welcome a regional competition for funding, the council said. A contest already exists in the Buffalo area.
Most of the recommendations don’t involve large outlays of cash because state government was facing a ballooning budget deficit last summer when Cuomo asked the regional councils to draft recovery plans. The governor and State Legislature have since wiped out the deficit with an infusion of federal aid and raising taxes on the wealthy and corporations.
"The recovery strategies developed by each Regional Economic Development Council reflects a moment in time from last summer," the ESD spokeswoman said.
The LIREDC, noting COVID’s harsh impact on minorities and the poor, said, "year after year, we could have done more to protect our most vulnerable people from the pandemic’s worst punishment. We don’t ever want to have to acknowledge that again."
The council said well-off school districts should offer access to their virtual classrooms to students from poor districts and laid-off technology workers should be hired to help families struggling with remote learning for children.
ECONOMIC RECOVERY SUGGESTIONS
The Long Island Regional Economic Development Council sent a 53-page COVID Economic Recovery Plan to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. Recommendations for “immediate” action include:
- Move forward on nearly 20 construction projects, many of them long delayed
- Encourage manufacturers to produce PPE and have governments buy from them
- Make permanent the state and local regulations that allowed for outdoor dining on public streets and sidewalks last summer
- Establish a state virtual Center of Excellence to develop vaccines and medical therapies
- Launch a regional funding competition for technology startups at universities
- Start virtual trade shows for businesses
- Allow food pantries to purchase fresh seafood; expand the participation of farmers and fishermen in nutrition programs for the poor
- Develop public service annoucements about COVID-19 safety protocols to encourage consumers to return to restaurants and shops
- Expand “Buy Local” campaigns
- Retrain laid-off workers for tech jobs and have those with tech skills help families struggling with remote learning for children
- Eliminate barriers to transfer credits between colleges
- Compiled by James T. Madore
SOURCE: 2020 Recovery Plan by the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council