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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

Long Island's economy needs higher-paying jobs

The Northrop Grumman Corp. plant in Bethpage. The

The Northrop Grumman Corp. plant in Bethpage. The company said March 4 that it will move 850 jobs off Long Island by next year, leaving just 550 workers out of a workforce that exceeded 25,000 in the 1980s. Photo Credit: Howard Schnapp, 2011

Sen. Charles Schumer's complaints about the loss of hundreds of Northrop Grumman workers won't stop Long Island from bleeding high-paying jobs.

The departures from the region's first big company -- yes, even 20 years after its heyday -- smarts. But the question now is how to grow high-paid positions to replace them, because the region's small businesses can't support the local economy forever.

Why did Northrop Grumman leave? The company isn't saying much. But then it probably doesn't have to.

Long Island's taxes are too high, and so are utility costs. It is not easy to move goods into, around or out of the area. As for the state of local infrastructure, the fact that most of Suffolk County doesn't have sewers says a lot.

What do local manufacturers themselves think? More than a third said they agreed or strongly agreed that they would relocate within the next five years, according to a survey of manufacturers in industries including bio-tech, defense-aerospace-homeland security, food and pharmaceuticals businesses.

According to the survey, conducted last year by Martin Cantor for the Long Island Forum for Technology, a nonprofit economic development organization in Bethpage, more than half cited "Long Island's high costs" as factors for considering a move.

The manufacturers singled out the region's high property taxes and energy costs, along with "high federal taxes, New York State's burdensome regulations and taxes, lack of government support for business, and difficulty in raising capital and securing bank financing."

What does that mean for the rest of us? It means a drag on the local economy as more residents work in the growing sector of lower-paying jobs, rather than in shrinking higher-paying jobs.

The lower pay, as a Newsday report pointed out Wednesday, leaves more and more residents with less disposable income to spend with local businesses. That makes it even harder for small businesses -- the backbone of Long Island's economy -- to survive.

It's a cycle that, unless broken, will end up strangling the region's chances for another significant economic boom.

There are a number of ongoing initiatives working to change that, including efforts to tie education to medical, science and high-tech business needs so students can prepare for high-paying jobs.

But that effort will fail unless the region is successful in growing those jobs, while reducing the region's high cost of living, as Pearl Kamer, chief economist for the Long Island Association, pointed out.

The current debate on the future of the Long Island Power Authority offers an opportunity to finally get the region's electric needs right.

And local Republicans in the State Senate are pushing for an extension of the STAR program to provide some relief from school taxes -- the biggest portion of the property tax bill. It's a start, but at some point the region also will have to devise a better way to fund so many school districts.

Schumer said that after the New York congressional delegation won millions of dollars in defense money for Northrop Grumman, the company went back on its promise to maintain and increase its operation in Bethpage.

Losing the bulk of the last remaining Grumman jobs certainly hurts. But there's more pain coming unless the region is even more ambitious about making changes to secure the economic future.

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