For decades, Long Island elected officials and advocates have dreamed of building a research and innovation corridor, as academic institutions, research labs, and visions of high-tech, science-based companies that could become the backbone of the Long Island economy danced in their heads.
That spine would stretch from Brookhaven National Lab to the Ronkonkoma Hub to the Nassau Hub, and into New York City, connecting key spots like Stony Brook University, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, Hofstra University, and Northwell Health and its Feinstein Institutes for Medical Research, along the way.
Incrementally, that’s been happening, bolstered by local advocacy and significant investment from New York State. Then, the dreamers awoke to find the biggest sign that such hopes could become real: last week’s decision to site the world’s first electron-ion collider at BNL.
The move is expected to turn BNL into the eastern anchor of the corridor, encouraging those highly-skilled in the physical sciences to flock to Long Island, entrepreneurs to build businesses here, and larger, more-established companies to look here for headquarters or lab space.
Even a powerful electron-ion collider can’t do all that on its own.
Observers say one reason for BNL’s success is that local, state and federal officials worked together with the private sector to encourage the U.S. Department of Energy to locate the electron-ion collider on Long Island.
They should take a moment to revel in the victory, then work to make the dream a reality. That includes building a new Long Island Rail Road station near BNL to replace the existing Yaphank station and connect the lab to transit. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority will fund the station; site selection is ongoing.
The coming third track on the Main Line, and East Side Access into Grand Central Terminal, also will help the region attract workers who want to live on the Island, and those who might live in Manhattan and commute east. But other improvements, such as further electrification of train lines, will be necessary. Beyond that, the development of the Ronkonkoma and Nassau hubs remains crucial, as research and development facilities there could provide a home for companies to start, grow and flourish. So, too, is building housing of all types, so a changing workforce has a place to live. Finding ways to attract private investment into the Island’s research facilities and universities is critical, too.
Five years ago, the state promised $550 million for Long Island’s transformative projects. Both hubs, Northwell Health, Cold Spring Harbor, Stony Brook, Long Island University, and others have gotten slices of that funding, which has gone a long way toward building the corridor. There’s $50 million left, and the state should earmark that to meaningful projects that connect with ongoing efforts.
Among all of that must also be a targeted marketing campaign, to promote the Island to employees and employers, who might find the home of that first electron-ion collider an enticing place to put down roots.
It’ll be a decade before the electron-ion collider is built. But the change that’s coming to Long Island can begin now.
— The editorial board