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A smart bet on science

A floor-to-ceiling replica of Nobel laureates James Watson

A floor-to-ceiling replica of Nobel laureates James Watson and Francis Crick's DNA model is a centerpiece at the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory on whose grounds is also where the Dolan Learning Center and where kids can watch the 30-minute film "DNA, the Secret of Life," then learn about their own genetic makeup in "The Genes We Share," an interactive exhibit. Credit: Jessica Earnshaw

You could write a book about what's wrong with Long Island. You could write another about solutions. And you'd still be just talking.

So we're excited -- tentatively, cautiously excited -- by the wish list of projects submitted to the state by our business and political leaders for a $550 million pot for economic development to transform Long Island. It hopes to meet today's needs and lay the groundwork for tomorrow while recognizing our region is indeed one island.

It would be easy for such an initiative to get mired in a political grab-fest in which money is larded out so that every elected official's district gets its share. That's happened time and time again and it's gotten us nowhere.

This time, you can see the first faint stirrings of a regional approach to what ails us. The individual pieces are shiny baubles, indeed. But it's how and why they're strung together that makes them stronger and more alluring.

The plan builds on one of our core strengths -- research. That's smart. It uses state funds as seed money to attract private investment, another wise approach. The goal: reshape our economy and center it on innovation -- to create the kind of high-paying jobs lost when the defense industry moved away, to make Long Island attractive to young people and businesses.

The crown jewel is a new center for bioelectronic medicine to be built atop an underground parking garage at the Nassau Hub by the North Shore-LIJ Health System's Feinstein Institute. The goal of this fascinating field is to no longer use drugs to treat disease. Instead, scientists use nerves in the body to make natural chemicals to fight diseases at their site. It's cutting-edge stuff with limitless potential.

The other research components are promising, too.

A supercomputing facility at Stony Brook University to allow our researchers to analyze the huge sets of data used in such fields as cancer and health research and energy.

A center at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory to seek new therapies for genetic diseases and new approaches to developing drugs for cancer and the like.

A school for Hofstra University's new engineering and applied science program.

A new research center for vaccine discovery at Farmingdale State College, and another for diabetes and obesity at Winthrop-University Hospital.

Helping to tie this together is a Suffolk County proposal that aligns transportation with major research centers and downtowns. It includes bus rapid-transit on Nicolls Road from Stony Brook to Patchogue, a new terminal on the north side of Long Island MacArthur Airport near the Ronkonkoma Hub, and a new train station at Brookhaven National Laboratory. The pitch also includes several long-standing infrastructure projects.

There's a lot to like here. It's up to Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo and state economic development czar Howard Zemsky to choose carefully from these proposals. They can, and should, tap more than that $550 million, perhaps finding more cash in the growing pot of bank settlement money that some estimate at an additional $2 billion or more.

Our Republican state senators will have a say, too, but we're begging: Think regionally. You did a great job teaming with business leaders to extract most of this money from the governor. Don't diminish that by pushing the list's small-minded projects, as you're prone to do. Memo to everyone: Long Island doesn't need tinkering, it needs a reboot.

Chances are we won't see progress soon. Patience will be required. And diligence. Because chances are that many leaders pushing this effort will be gone before today's investments ever generate dividends.

The payoffs could be huge. Any money spent is a gamble, a bet on a future with no guarantees. But it's a risk we must take, to avoid the future that otherwise beckons.