Long Island's "blue economy" could generate thousands of jobs and...

Long Island's "blue economy" could generate thousands of jobs and other benefits for the region, according to a nextLI report. Credit: Discover Long Island

The many industries tied to Long Island’s waters have never worked in sync to become a major economic hub.

If they did, it would transform the Island’s economic landscape.

From aquaculture to marine research to offshore wind, these sectors could weave together into a single ecosystem, a “blue economy” that would find new ways to connect Long Island’s future growth to the water around it.

A new report commissioned by Newsday’s nextLI initiative, a resource and digital community that offers nonpartisan research on issues affecting the region, shows that with the right policies and attention, the blue economy could produce tens of thousands of new jobs — and billions more in economic activity and fiscal impact.

That’s an incredible opportunity. And the moment is ripe. Readily available federal and state incentives could foster the development and growth of the blue economy right now. The tools, including regulations and funds dedicated to infrastructure and climate change, are already in place. Government officials, business leaders and advocates just need to channel their energies and attention toward growing the blue economy into a job-generating, activity-building network.

The nextLI report, produced by HR&A Advisors, shows that Long Island needs a boost, a new economic power source that could propel it forward. In the decades since the region lost the defense and aerospace industry, its replacement jobs too often have not met its workforce’s needs. About three-fourths of the Island’s new jobs have been in industries that have less of a ripple effect across the broader economy. And according to HR&A, nearly two-thirds of new jobs on the Island since 2001 have been in industries with average annual earnings below $75,000.

Attention to Long Island’s blue economy could change all that.

The pieces of a blue economy have always existed here. Our geography lends itself to industries like aquaculture, fisheries, marine construction and transportation, involving such jobs as fishing crews, farmers, construction workers, engineers, and boat pilots. Our research institutions provide opportunities for fledgling businesses to profit from new ideas, including in marine work and biotechnology related to marine organisms. Tourism and recreation rely heavily on Long Island’s 1,200 miles of coastline for boating, water sports, seafood restaurants and more.

MORE JOBS

Such industries together account for nearly 68,000 jobs, about 5% of the region’s total. If local, state and federal leaders did nothing, the blue economy would grow at a modest pace, providing a sliver of what’s possible. But there’s much more that can be done.

With the right investments and attention, HR&A estimates, the blue economy could account for 127,800 jobs by 2051, as much as 8% of the region’s workforce. And that growth could spread across the local economy: As people earn higher wages, spend more elsewhere and impact other industries, it could generate 195,000 jobs, $41 billion in economic output and more than $2.6 billion in tax revenue.

Tourism will be a large part of that pie. But growth in marine research and in the still-developing offshore wind industry also could account for an especially large share of blue economy gains.

A blue economy spotlight would go well with the critical attention needed on climate change. Last week’s announcement that Stony Brook University will anchor the New York Climate Exchange initiative on Governors Island shows what’s possible. And while Suffolk County likely would benefit most, there are opportunities regionwide.

Success stories elsewhere provide a blueprint. Portugal, for instance, established a Blue Fund, which dedicated research and development money to encourage its workforce to move into blue economy-related industries. Portugal’s blue economy jobs grew eight times the national baseline.

LENGTHY TO-DO LIST

To get there, Long Island has a long to-do list that requires support from state and federal officials and a willingness to move beyond traditional objections to housing, population growth and additional industry and development.

Streamlining and advancing approvals for the cables, transmission lines and grid infrastructure for offshore wind is critical, as is investing in water quality improvements and research incentives. Ensuring local hiring, establishing workforce training, and building housing for workers will help, too.

Smaller steps also are needed, including expanding the farming of seaweed and shellfish, providing better access to the shorelines for tourism and recreation, and opening a blue economy incubator that could turn marine-related research into commercial innovation. Existing Long Island manufacturers, who already have the tools and foundation, could capitalize on a new blue economy focus if they’re given technical assistance and make the necessary upgrades. HR&A cites Roman Stone Construction, a concrete products manufacturer that switched gears to work in offshore wind.

Long Island must act quickly and carefully. We’ve been here before, where a new industry presents excitement and promise only to lose momentum — like the region’s attempted forays into pharmaceuticals and life sciences. That can’t happen this time. There’s too much potential in our oceans, coastlines and waterways to let this dream run aground.

MEMBERS OF THE EDITORIAL BOARD are experienced journalists who offer reasoned opinions, based on facts, to encourage informed debate about the issues facing our community.

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