When OSI Pharmaceuticals — once the apparent crown jewel of Long Island's future life sciences industry — left the region in 2009, the late Matthew Crosson, then the president of the Long Island Association, had stern words for the state and the region.
"We have to stop playing in a make-believe world on Long Island," Crosson said. "Economic development in the competitive world we're in takes money, it takes focus and it takes coordination, and we're not doing any of those things right now."
OSI's departure for Westchester County marked a low point in the Island's decadeslong attempt to build a life-sciences industry here. After the former anchor tenant of Farmingdale State College's Broadhollow Bioscience Park jumped ship, there was a lot of talk about what to do next, which company could fill its lab space, and most importantly, how life sciences could still become the future of Long Island.
But, as Crosson predicted, without money, focus and coordination, nothing happened.
That started to change this year. Over the summer, Estee Lauder became the bioscience park's anchor tenant. Then came anticipation over Broadhollow's announcement of a new executive director, Dan Polner, who previously served as Stony Brook University's incubator advocate in its Office of Economic Development.
This week, the excitement stretched past Farmingdale. Gov. Kathy Hochul visited Manhasset Tuesday to announce the first awards from the Long Island Investment Fund, the $350 million pot the state has reserved for significant projects across the region. The first $10 million, Hochul said, will go to the Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research to expand its medical and infectious disease research labs. That's on top of a previous $30 million state award Feinstein received to remake its Institute of Bioelectric Medicine.
Hopefully, more significant awards from the LIIF will boost the Island's research and development efforts, especially in life sciences, biotechnology and related fields.
But there's more. The fund also set aside $50 million for a life sciences competition for local startups looking to grow their companies. With the contest, the state is spotlighting the Island as the potential home for an industry it's long struggled to build, and providing a path to commercializing the research we've long nurtured, creating jobs and growing revenue. That, said Kevin Law, chairman of Empire State Development and former LIA president, can help the Island create a cluster that will attract talented employees.
So, there's the money and the focus.
The last leg of Crosson's economic tripod is the toughest one. But coordination is critical to establishing a research corridor that connects the pieces — from Brookhaven National Laboratory to Stony Brook University to Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to Broadhollow Bioscience Park to Hofstra University to Northwell Health and its Feinstein Institutes — and turns them into a true economic engine. That, until now, has been an elusive goal.
Polner said that type of partnership can help fulfill his big ideas, including constructing a third facility on the remaining 18 acres of bioscience park space, with up to 60,000 square feet of lab and office space.
"There's a window of opportunity," Polner said. "It's taken 20 years to get here but now we have to come together and not squander it."
Another set of stern words that should guide our actions, if we finally want to turn make-believe into reality.
Columnist Randi F. Marshall's opinions are her own.