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Google is adding hundreds of thousands of square

Google is adding hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space in Manhattan. Credit: Getty Images/Drew Angerer

Dear Google:

So, you’re adding hundreds of thousands of square feet of office space in Manhattan.

And some in the business community on Long Island hope you’ll develop a presence here, too.

But before deciding to add a "spoke" to your Manhattan hub, you should know what it’s like to try to build, well, anything in Nassau or Suffolk counties.

Spoiler alert: We don’t make it easy.

Let’s start with the good stuff. The region touts plenty of amenities to attract your workers, from beaches and parks to shopping and schools. It has an expanding commuter railroad, excellent colleges and universities, and advocates who — rightly — won’t stop dreaming of a tech corridor full of innovation.

You’d fit right in.

And with eight industrial development agencies and many state grant programs, there’s likely money to grab — though it'd be nice if you eschewed such breaks, as you’re doing on Manhattan's West Side.

But even without the tax breaks battle, the ghosts of Long Island businesses past could tell you building and maintaining a corporate presence here is expensive, complicated, rife with roadblocks and, too often, temporary.

First, you’ll need a place to settle. You’ll find lots of ordinary suburban industrial parks and tired corporate plazas. But that probably doesn't fit your needs.

What if you prefer to build and create something new, perhaps using empty land near a railroad station, or a now-vacant strip mall? Or what if you want to be a part of big development efforts at the Nassau Hub or other long-discussed properties?

Take a deep breath and get ready. A complex maze awaits, one of planning, zoning and town board hearings and, in all likelihood, plenty of "no" before you get to "yes." You'll find a mess of government fiefdoms, where elected officials often aren’t rowing in the same direction and rarely unify behind even the best of regional thinking. Your patience will be tested. Don’t expect to break ground, never mind move in, anytime soon.

And even if you make it that far, past experience shows it will be an uphill battle to stay, grow and attract employees, for whom finding housing is a whole other fight.

Long Island has talked of building a tech-centered economy for decades. Local officials have trained their spotlight on software or biotech or wireless or pharmaceutical companies or, well, really anything under the "innovation" umbrella. But research and entrepreneurship haven’t translated into true economic might.

Part of the problem: The Island hasn’t successfully grown or wooed larger firms to act as anchor tenants. While a few, like Henry Schein, have stayed, a long list of names like OSI Pharmaceuticals, CA Technologies, Symbol Technologies, Arrow Electronics and Pall Corporation filled the region with hope and promise, only to sell or merge or leave or dissolve or downsize. More recently, the failed effort to bring Amazon to Long Island City — one that would’ve boosted Nassau and Suffolk, too — serves as a cautionary tale.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t try. Perhaps, with roots in Manhattan and branches stretching east, you'll find success. Perhaps as the pandemic wanes and recovery takes hold, officials from all levels of government and business will recognize how important it is to change Long Island’s story, to mobilize, make it simpler, and turn the decadeslong dream of an innovation economy into reality.

In the meantime, brace yourself. It’ll be a bumpy ride — but it just might be worth it.

Columnist Randi F. Marshall's opinions are her own.

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