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What the LIA needs in a new leader

A Long Island Association meeting in Melville back

A Long Island Association meeting in Melville back in 2019. Credit: Barry Sloan

Wanted: A visionary and an advocate who has a powerful voice, is energetic and imaginative, and has an ability to listen and collaborate.

That’s what the region will need at the helm of its largest business group, as Long Island embarks on what will likely be a long, bumpy road of economic recovery and reinvention.

But there’s one more quality the Long Island Association should be looking for. After 95 years of having white men lead the region’s largest business group, it’s time to consider a different face at the top.

There are many talented, capable women and people of color across the region who could deliver on this challenge. Such a person would send a message to the Island’s largest industries that remain dominated by white men, and could encourage more diversity in business leadership. Narrowing the search field could deprive the group of exciting skill sets and the vision the Island will need in a future where suburbs take on a new role, and where issues like economic development, public transportation and business growth will be paramount.

Outgoing chief executive Kevin Law has led the LIA with a strong, capable hand over a decade, bringing the organization to the forefront of regional thinking and planning, and making it a champion of critically important projects, most notably the Long Island Rail Road’s third track. Law pushed for hundreds of millions of dollars in state funding for the growth of the life sciences industry, downtown revitalization, and other efforts.

His successor similarly must develop a close relationship with Albany, so Long Island’s needs are met as communities across the state compete for what could be a smaller pot of money, especially in the next few years.

But the next LIA chief executive has to wear many hats — straddling the public and private sectors, and recognizing their interdependence. The person must take on the expected fiscal challenges, but also be willing to think big, and refuse to back down from the right ideas, especially at a time when such big thinking might be the difference between a robust economy and one that flails. Law’s successor will have to bridge political and economic divides, collaborate with everyone from corporate executives to small business owners to union workers, and resolve community pushback.

First and foremost, the LIA’s next leader will have to focus on the pandemic’s impact and the Island’s recovery. Beyond that, there’s a chance to spearhead ways to meet the region’s housing, public transit, and renewable energy needs. A focus on reimagining the nation’s first suburb, with particular attention on remaking our shopping and strip malls and old commercial and industrial spaces, will be key.

It’s an enormous job and especially right now, it won’t be easy. But it’s a test that the right leader can take on with the power and passion that will put Long Island on a new path to a robust future.

— The editorial board