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Suozzi: Firms should team up to boost LI defense industry

Congressman Thomas Suozzi speaks during the Long Island

Congressman Thomas Suozzi speaks during the Long Island Aerospace & Defense Industry Roundtable at the Cold Spring Harbor Library Tuesday, April 18, 2017. Photo Credit: Barry Sloan

Long Island’s defense manufacturers should create a unified “brand” that could expand the roughly $2.5 billion in contracts they attracted in fiscal 2014, Rep. Thomas R. Suozzi (D-Glen Cove), a freshman on the House Armed Services Committee, said Tuesday.

Suozzi, speaking at a roundtable he organized at the Cold Spring Harbor Library & Environmental Center, said the 3rd Congressional District, which he represents, attracted $1.7 billion in fiscal 2014, the most of any district in New York.

“It takes teamwork to make the dream work,” he said in quizzing defense contractors about their needs and calling for a united front.

Long Island has a storied history in aviation and defense. The region’s factories produced the P-47 Thunderbolt during World War II, the F-14 Tomcat in the 1970s and the Apollo Lunar Module that took man to the moon in the 1960s. Long Island’s defense industry employment peaked in the 1980s when Grumman Corp. had a workforce of more than 25,000.

Panelist Robert Botticelli, chairman and executive director of Commack-based ADDAPT (the Aerospace and Defense Diversification Alliance in Peacetime Transition), said that Connecticut is represented at major industry events like the Paris Air Show in June and Long Island should be, too.

“We have a supply chain to sell,” he said.

Bernhard Laib, director of global supply chain programs for Northrop Grumman Aerospace Systems, said the company taps Long Island companies to work on the E-2 Hawkeye early-warning aircraft, the F/A-18 Hornet multi-role jet and the F-35 joint strike fighter.

“I wouldn’t put work here if I was thinking [Long Island] was yesterday’s news,” he said. “The trick is: Can you stay competitive? I can’t afford to have a competitive stumble.”

Donna Linke-Klein, director of tactical systems at BAE Systems, said that with skilled older workers exiting in a “silver tsunami,” Long Island companies need to attract young talent.

“We need to get the millennials motivated about the defense industry,” she said. She said BAE’s Greenlawn facility has more than 600 employees.

Kevin McSweeney, president of Farmingdale-based Telephonics Corp., said that Silicon Valley has a brand and young people want to work for Google, or Elon Musk, the head of Tesla.

“Defense is the second or third choice,” he said. “If we learn to collaborate, I think it would benefit all of us.”

John Spiezio, vice president at Hicksville Machine Works, said that Los Angeles has match-making events for aerospace companies, but that, in contrast, “everyone on Long Island is siloed.”

Suozzi, a former Nassau County executive, cited statistics drawn from Bloomberg that placed New York State in 14th place with $6.3 billion in fiscal 2014 defense contracts. The 2nd Congressional District of Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford) got $311 million for that period, while the 1st District of Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) attracted $131 million.

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