Mary Walshok, associate vice chancellor of the University of California-San...

Mary Walshok, associate vice chancellor of the University of California-San Diego, speaks at Farmingdale State College, where the Long Island Index results were released. (Jan. 18, 2012) Credit: Newsday / Audrey C. Tiernan

Long Island can use the example set by San Diego as an inspiration to become a high-tech business hotbed, an expert told local business leaders and educators Wednesday.

"A place can reinvent itself," said Mary Walshok, associate vice chancellor at the University of California at San Diego.

Walshok recounted how the California city nearly 30 years ago overcame challenging economic conditions to become an innovator of high-tech businesses.

She said it took collaboration and an entrepreneurial spirit, uniting academic researchers, business leaders and bankers, and luring private financial investment.

Today, there are 75 major research institutions in San Diego and several thousand IT/wireless communications companies. In the last decade, hundreds of energy and environmental businesses have also sprouted, Walshok said.

Walshok was the keynote speaker at Farmingdale State College during the Long Island Index's public rollout of its new report on how the Island can become a business innovator by capitalizing on its considerable assets.

She addressed about 300 business and nonprofit leaders, university presidents and others.

Walshok, co-founder of an innovative cluster development program known as CONNECT, said San Diego's effort needed three key ingredients: a "critical mass of research," money to invest in start-ups and "entrepreneurial talent."

The Long Island Index, published by the Rauch Foundation, has for nine years polled Long Islanders about their attitudes about living here, including opinions about LI's schools, housing, and the like, and has issued special analyses over the period.

This year's special analysis produced the inaugural Long Island Innovation Index, prepared by the California-based Collaborative Economics Inc., which assessed Long Island's assets, such as its research capacity, investment capital and more.

The report noted the Island has the assets to become a powerhouse of innovation: Brookhaven National Laboratory and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory research centers; growing federal investment in research and development; and a growing science and engineering workforce.

"There's much hope for Long Island's future," Nancy Rauch Douzinas, president of the Rauch Foundation, told the audience.

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