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Young business people push for changes to make island more attractive

Karen Signoracci Suero, center, of Mineola, was among

Karen Signoracci Suero, center, of Mineola, was among a group of young business executives who gave their take on how to grow more jobs on Long Island and make the Island a draw for young people. Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

Trucking company owner Brad Caracciola, fed up with the metro area's high housing prices, traffic-clogged roads and the cost of doing business, says he lobbied his wife "like a politician" to leave New York City and relocate to south Florida.

Caracciola, a 38-year-old father of three young children, lost the debate. He and his wife moved to Old Westbury.

Michelle Blum grew up in Marlboro, New Jersey, graduated from Hofstra in 2010 and decided to stay on Long Island because she said she came of age here and fell in love with it.

But Blum, 26, the owner of a Bethpage-based nutrition-consulting company, Nutrish Mish, says of the many friends she made in college, "I am the only one who still lives out here, that I know of."

Long Island needs its young more than ever. The Island is graying. A recent economic report from the Long Island Association, the region's largest business group, cited a Cornell University study showing that while the number of Nassau residents 65 and older is expected to rise by 20.8 percent between 2015 and 2030, the number of residents 45 to 64 years old is expected to drop by 15.7 percent. A similar pattern is expected for Suffolk.

And the Island's labor-force -- those working or looking for work -- has shrunk to the lowest level in more than a decade. In February, it stood at 1.425 million, the lowest number for that month since 2002, when the labor force was 1.419 million, state data show.

At the same time, the Island lacks what young residents are clamoring for: affordable housing, better job opportunities and leisure and entertainment options.


30% considering leaving

A survey this year by an advocacy group, The Suburban Millennial Institute in Garden City, found that 30 percent of 18- to 36-year-olds are considering leaving the Island because of a lack of job prospects. Meanwhile, a study released in December by the research group Long Island Index found that 37 percent of the Island's 18- to 34-year-olds live with family members. That was the highest percentage since the group began asking about housing costs concerns in 2008, when 27 percent lived with family.

"For Long Island these concerning trends highlight the importance of policies aimed at retaining younger workers and enhancing job opportunities to promote economic growth," said John A. Rizzo, chief economist of the Long Island Association.

While the Island faces hurdles in keeping its young people, suburban-issue experts said there's hope. They point to factors such as a well-educated population and strong research and educational institutions as lures.

Lawrence Levy, executive dean of the National Center for Suburban Studies at Hofstra, said Long Island could make itself more attractive to young people if it builds apartments and increases its investments in public transportation and the arts. But that requires a balancing act, to ensure it preserves open space and other natural assets, he said.

"The most important thing the regional leaders can do is to come up with a plan to persuade local people, whether elected village officials, civic groups or chambers of commerce about the value of embracing smart growth and transit-oriented development and be prepared to invest in communities prepared to move forward," he said.

Caracciola and Blum both belong to a local charity and business networking group, Long Island Elite, which is composed mostly of young executives and entrepreneurs. The members are business people who live here and have promising careers, but who are well aware of the challenges the Island poses for young people.

A dozen members of the group gathered at Newsday to discuss the Island's pressing issues.

Caracciola, a Smithtown native, discussed issues he faced in deciding where to live. He was keen to move to Florida because the state has no income tax, has lower property taxes -- and he could get much more housing for the money in the Sunshine State.

"I was the guy emailing his wife pictures of what would be an estate on Long Island in Florida," said Caracciola, who owns GroundForce Logistics in Manhattan.

Blum said her love for Long Island grew as she got her first apartment here and her first job, and later started a business.

But, echoing Caracciola's concerns about the Island's costs, she said her classmates were scared off by the prospect of paying off hefty student loan debt while shouldering Long Island's high housing costs and property taxes.

"Sometimes the numbers just don't add up," Blum said.


Lacked housing options

Melissa Kaiser, 34, a South Nassau County resident and an Astoria Bank vice president and branch manager, said housing options for young people haven't progressed much since she relocated to Long Island 13 years ago from her home state of Washington. She came because she felt her banking skills were "undervalued" there. When her former employer, Washington Mutual Bank, expanded to New York, she decided to come east, enticed by a career opportunity, a signing bonus and the payment of her relocation expenses.

Those early days on Long Island meant dealing with a tough housing situation.

"I really did have to live in a room in a house with people I didn't know, and that was the only option I had," she said. "We don't have affordable apartment living for kids to transition from college to an apartment complex with everyone their age that has the downtown that they can go to and will keep them here."

Efforts to build affordable apartments have been opposed by community groups fearful of greater housing density.

Garden City resident Rob Salvatico, 42, who manages his family's Hotel Indigo and Holiday Inn Express in Riverhead, said the number one objection to multifamily complexes are what he described as unfounded fears of large numbers of children overwhelming local school districts.


Call to 'speak up'

At a recent meeting on a proposed luxury apartment complex in Rockville Centre, Salvatico said builders presented research showing that the ratio in such units was about 0.14 schoolkids per apartment.

"We spend all this money making sure our kids get the best education, and in turn the taxes increase," he said. "All this money to educate them, then we can't keep them. I think the answer to keeping them is greater density, smarter locations."

He believes young residents can counter opposition to multifamily complexes by attending community meetings and government hearings to push for housing options.

"If you guys speak up, it will happen," Salvatico said. "It's up to the millennials to say, 'We don't want to have to leave Long Island. We don't want to live in our parents' basement."

He also called for more entertainment options for young people. When he was in his 20s and 30s, "if you wanted to go out on a Wednesday or Thursday or Friday, you had to go into the city," he said. "Things to do, to me that's the first draw of living somewhere."

Karen Signoracci Suero, 36, a Mineola resident and consultant to nonprofits, urges the promotion of entrepreneurship among college students. Some local schools offer entrepreneurship courses or degrees. Hofstra, for example, offers a bachelor's of business administration with a concentration in entrepreneurship and Stony Brook University offers a similar degree, and both schools hold annual competitions offering prize money.

Signoracci Suero believes more should be done to teach entrepreneurship in schools, leading to job growth.

"We have an influx of college students coming every year to this Island," she said. "Just to get your MBA or a business degree isn't enough. We need to encourage entrepreneurship, and encourage a lot of these kids to stay here and build a business here."

Downtowns seen as draw

Several group members said more bustling downtowns would appeal to younger residents.

"If we are going to attract people here and keep people here from Park Slope and the Upper East Side and all those wonderful, glamorous sexy places, we need the Garden Cities and the downtown Huntingtons, Rockville Centres, Babylons," Signoracci Suero said. "And we need those mom-and-pop stores to stay open and to be available. I want to get a beer. I want to get a cup of coffee. I want to push my stroller and have my dog with me."

The successful revitalization of areas like Patchogue, which is revamping its decaying downtown with mixed-use apartment complexes near the train station, highlights the Island's existing opportunities for redevelopment.

"We've already got the infrastructure here," said lawyer Adam Guttell, 38, an East Hills resident, and a partner at Martin Clearwater & Bell in East Meadow. "You have the Long Island Rail Road that goes all the way through the Island. Just think of the railroad and what's near it. There's nothing within walking distance."

Salvatico agreed. "The road map, whether we like it or not, is already drawn for us, and it's the LIRR," he said.

The South Shore's Babylon line, with its proximity to beaches, would be ideal for millennial apartment complexes and entertainment sites, he said.

"To me, at some point that's a developer's dream -- a very frequently running train along a major highway with access to Long Island's natural beauty," he said. "Those are all cool towns that could be revitalized on that basis."

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