Winning $101.6 million in state funding isn't the end of what Long Island needs to do to build our economy, but it's vital seed money that can get us moving. And in competing for those dollars, the region developed a new spirit of cooperation.
In fact, that collaboration was apparently one of the strengths of the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council's submission to a statewide competition. One example: Three governments -- the towns of Islip and Brookhaven, and Suffolk County -- are working on the Ronkonkoma Hub proposal for a transit-oriented development linking the railroad station, Long Island MacArthur Airport, and a complex of apartments, offices and retail stores. The plan won $4 million toward a sewage treatment plant that's crucial to the project. And that came on the heels of the unanimous selection of a master developer, Island-based Tritec. An excellent week for a big idea that's going places.
It's reasonable to wonder what was the mix of pure merit and more immediate political motives that decided who won what. But it's clear that Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo set the conditions for better regional cohesion by creating 10 regional economic development councils, putting a $1-billion carrot in front of them, and challenging them to compete with each other to produce job-creating plans. The competition was healthy, stimulating ideas that emerged locally, not dictates imposed by the state.
It came to a crescendo last Thursday in a tightly choreographed event in Albany. Our region's proposal was one of four out of the 10 to win a "best plan" designation. Each of the four got a bit more than $100 million. For the other six regions, including the City of New York, the take-home was in the $49- to $69-million range.
Our 66 funded projects included $6 million for revitalizing Wyandanch; $5 million for sewers in the Village of Hempstead; $5 million for a Stony Brook University-Brookhaven National Laboratory push to make the electric grid more efficient; $2 million to help Hofstra and Stony Brook universities increase undergraduate engineering enrollment; and $1.8 million to enhance science, technology, engineering and math training for our workforce.
The awards also include $2.5 million for road work at Gerald Wolkoff's proposed Heartland Town Square mixed-use project in Brentwood. But total road improvements will cost a lot more than that. Meanwhile, the project is stuck. Among other factors, Wolkoff refuses to sign a project labor agreement with unions, and they won't work on the project without one. So it might be a while before the $2.5 million flows, unless Wolkoff clears the obstacles.
Getting the dollars and creating the jobs is the next task for the Long Island council and its Empire State Development staff. Sponsors of the projects have to lay out the money, then get reimbursed after meeting specific job-creation and other goals. So, like a football team that has just won a big game, the council can only afford to enjoy the euphoria briefly. Now it has to focus on the challenge of the next game: Without letting its hard-won collaboration dissipate, it must keep pushing to turn a winning plan into real economic growth for our region.