Credit: TMS illustration by Mark Weber

Jennifer Wheary is a senior fellow at Demos, a public policy organization in Manhattan.

 

McDonald's recently announced its plan to hire 50,000 workers for both crew and management positions next Tuesday. Many of these will be seasonal and part-time jobs paying above minimum wage. Franchises in Islip, Northport, Syosset and Stony Brook are among those hiring.

McDonald's is sensitive to the reaction that food jobs are dead-end employment. In the publicity around "National Hiring Day," Jan Fields, president of McDonald's USA, says that the new jobs will generate $54 million in payroll taxes and $1.4 billion in consumer spending. In addition, the company estimates that its hiring will spawn 13,300 additional new jobs in "contiguous sectors," though that's a nebulous term the company doesn't define.

Fields and other senior company representatives also point out that more than 70 percent of McDonald's restaurant managers, half of its franchise owners, and about a third of its executives started as restaurant employees. Fields herself began her career behind the counter -- as a single mother who needed flexible hours, no less.

While these figures (like the company's fries) are to be taken with a gigantic grain of salt, they do make a good case that McDonald's massive hiring is not all sizzle and no steak. Seasonal employment is an essential part of the economic life cycle. Its boost, even if only temporary, is needed as much now as ever. Plus, as the story of Fields and other managers shows, it's still possible to start in the McMailroom and work your way up. The company has a long history of training talent and supporting employee education. Its 50-year old Hamburger University was the first corporate "university" in the world and has long been a model.

Certainly not everyone hired on April 19 will have the same chance of rising in McDonald's managerial ranks. But in a tough economic climate, any job that can lead to further training has potential.

While some may sneer, Long Island needs McDonald's and other large companies to keep hiring. Research from the Kaufman Foundation -- a nonprofit devoted to studying and supporting entrepreneurship -- shows that large, established companies, including McDonald's, create about half of all new jobs nationwide.

The other source of job creation, according to Kaufmann's research, comes from companies that are less than 5 years old. Here, too, Long Island is seeing some hope.

The state legislature just passed a bill to expand the Broad Hollow Bioscience Park at Farmingdale State College, an expansion projected to add about 800 jobs, with an annual payroll of $50 million.

There's also talk of developing a "regional innovation cluster" incorporating Stony Brook University, Brookhaven National Laboratory and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory. The concept is advocated by the U.S. Economic Development Administration, the Small Business Administration and local lawmakers as a way to attract funding, private business and jobs to an area.

But the possibility of getting federal funds for a Suffolk County cluster may be up in the air. The budget of the SBA -- which had been giving grants to fledging clusters -- was spared an initial round of proposed cuts. But its funding will remain at the fiscal 2010 level, undoubtedly creating a cautious atmosphere around making new grants.

Nonetheless, the cooperation of local institutions to package human capital and resources in a way that's attractive to investors and entrepreneurs will be an essential part of economic recovery. But it takes more than cooperation to create and keep jobs here.

The initial budget cuts proposed to the federal Office of Science, which funds Brookhaven National Lab, topped $1.1 billion. Had those cuts gone through, the lab would have been forced to close some facilities, resulting in the loss of about 1,000 local jobs. Luckily Long Island lawmakers helped to whittle the science cuts down to $35 million, so Brookhaven won't bear the brunt of the impact.

With more than 110,000 Long Islanders out of work, and an average regional unemployment of nearly 8 percent, it's time to be open-minded about creating jobs. Flipping burgers or the highest of the high-tech, all options should be welcome.