On a hot, humid July day, when vacation plans are uppermost in many people’s minds, about three dozen local executives, consultants and the heads of government agencies and trade groups gathered for an early-morning meeting in Brentwood to talk about the future of manufacturing on Long Island.
The Hauppauge Industrial Association’s manufacturing committee hosted the Wednesday meeting at Suffolk County Community College. And while a summer gathering of the committee was unusual, it is on a mission to revitalize manufacturing on Long Island; so some members felt a seasonal hiatus could wait.
The committee wants to brand the Island’s manufacturing sector — the way it was branded during the heyday of defense manufacturing here in the 1980s or during the work associated with the lunar excursion module in the 1960s.
“We are in general seen as an innovation center and we can capitalize on that,” said Gary Huth, above left, the State Labor Department’s principal economist for Long Island told the group. “We have the capabilities here.”
The trick is to make Long Island’s manufacturing sector “exciting” again, through investments in cutting-edge technology that would give businesses the productivity and efficiencies to compete, he said. If that happens, the Island won't have any trouble persuading skilled, young workers to remain here, he said.
“High cost or not, they will stay,” he said. “But it’s only going to happen if we work collaboratively.”
As part of its mission the committee wants to tackle the skills gap on Long Island.
Amid high employment, the Island has 3,000 unfilled high-tech jobs because employers can’t find enough skilled workers, said David Bottomley, executive director of the Aerospace and Defense Diversification Alliance in Peacetime Transition, a group founded to advise aerospace manufacturers in the aftermath of the defense downsizing. He blames that on the cost of living here.
“This is a very expensive place to do business,” he said. “The only solution to this challenge is to develop cutting-edge technology.”
John Lombardo, the director of corporate training at SCCC, which offers a manufacturing program, said the school continues to work to close the skills gap. It is now planning to offer a program in “green” technology,
“We are planning to be ready for whatever the next emerging industry will be,” he said.
Financing for future investments is crucial. And Barry Greenspan of the Empire State Development Corp. told the group about various state programs to help companies, including the agency’s Manufacturing Assistance Program. It provides financing for manufacturers that invest in capital projects to significantly improve productivity and competitiveness. The program has proved popular on Long Island, he said.
“We never thought MAP would be heavily used on Long Island,” said. “We envisioned it as an upstate program.”
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