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NY economic czar nominee says retaining youth is key to Long Island's future

Howard Zemsky, who is Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's

Howard Zemsky, who is Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's nominee to serve as chief executive of Empire State Development, speaks to members of the Long Island Association in Melville on Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015. Credit: Barry Sloan

Stemming the exodus of young people from Long Island must be an objective of state business aid, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's nominee for economic development czar said Tuesday.

Howard Zemsky, a Buffalo real estate developer who grew up in Woodbury, said the loss of people in their 20s and 30s will undermine the economies of both western New York and the Island. He's spent the past 13 years turning 19th- and early 20th-century buildings in downtown Buffalo into offices, restaurants and shops, where the younger sets are key customers.

Last month, Cuomo tapped Zemsky to lead Empire State Development, the state's primary business-aid agency. He still must be confirmed by the State Senate.

"We're losing young people," Zemsky told about 100 people at a meeting of the Long Island Association business group. "If you lose young people, unless you can change the laws of biology, you have population decline.

"We need to always keep in mind: Are we doing things that attract and keep young people?" he said. "There isn't really ever one project that transforms a place as large as Long Island, but if you continue to incentivize the right types of projects, you'd be surprised at how much you can accomplish in just several years."

Zemsky said he and other state leaders would be guided by a 2011 jobs plan written by the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, a group of business, education and labor leaders appointed by Cuomo. The plan endorses building projects around Long Island Rail Road stations, training in science, math and technology for high school students and commercializing inventions from local researchers.

Zemsky, 55, moved to Buffalo more than 30 years ago to run his family's meat processing business. He saw the closing of steel mills and automobile parts factories, the shedding of good-paying jobs and a steep population decline.

He praised Cuomo's commitment to invest $1 billion in the Buffalo-area economy over 10 years and $1.5 billion in other regions upstate.

More business activity west of Albany, Zemsky said, will translate into less money that Long Island and New York City have to send to the state to sustain the upstate economy. He also noted that upstate taxpayers helped New York City during its fiscal crisis in the 1970s.

"The idea is that some of these regions that have been on their back get up on their feet," he said. "This isn't intended as a perpetual bailout . . . The whole idea is to create a sustainable economy through some of these investments."

Zemsky was born in Brooklyn but moved to Woodbury as a youngster. He played Little League on a team sponsored by the former Cerro Wire and Cable Corp. in Syosset, and tennis at the old Woodbury Racket Club, where condominiums now stand.

He recalled Tuesday being beaten badly in a tournament at age 16 by future tennis star John McEnroe. He said, "That discouraged me from pursuing a tennis career."

Zemsky graduated from Syosset High School in 1977 and studied meat science and food marketing at Michigan State University.

He has said he will forgo a state salary, instead accepting $1 per year.

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