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New York reaches for the future

Photo Credit: Joe Rocco illustration

Team Long Island is playing a must-win road game Monday in Albany.

The contest is an oral presentation of the five-year strategic plan quickly assembled by the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, one of 10 created by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, to get local leaders cooperating within their region and competing with others for $1 billion in state help.

Making the process competitive has energized regions with a sense that they can chart their own course. Cuomo says the four best plans can each win $40 million -- $25 million in capital funds and $15 million in tax credits -- out of the initial $200 million. If the process plays out fairly, Long Island's plan has an excellent shot to win.

The genius of Cuomo's idea lies in the availability of real money and in the compressed deadlines, essentially from the rollout of the councils in the summer until submission of the plans on Nov. 14. The salutary result, in a region where fragmentation rules and collaboration languishes, has been teamwork.

The big-name players on the council -- and in its working groups -- actually did the work. They didn't just send underlings. They didn't hire a high-priced consultant to write the plan. They did a cold-eyed analysis of our strengths and weaknesses. And they compiled a list of projects that they think can transform our economy for years to come.

The process has given them a heightened sense of our need to act fast to revive our economy. It has also strengthened existing relationships and built new ones. Take the Long Island team making the opening presentation Monday to a panel named by Cuomo to judge the 10 plans. It has to make the case that this region picked legitimate, job-creating projects and the council and its state staff can actually implement them.

The presenters include the co-vice chairmen: Stuart Rabinowitz, president of Hofstra University, and Kevin Law, president of the Long Island Association, our primary business organization. The other presenter will be Dr. Samuel L. Stanley Jr., president of Stony Brook University, an expert on the technological innovation so vital to our growth.

The Stanley-Rabinowitz cooperation is an eye-opener, given the two schools' competition. Stony Brook has full-fledged, long-established medical and engineering schools, which Hofstra is just starting. But the two men found commonality in the region's workforce needs.

The Island produces 265 engineers a year per million residents, compared with 788 in California's Silicon Valley. So one of the 13 key projects is a collaboration between the schools to double Hofstra's undergraduate engineering enrollment and increase Stony Brook's by 50 percent. The plan seeks $2 million for labs, equipment and faculty hiring.


Another idea that bubbled up in the process is Thought Box 1 in Hicksville, turning a vacant building near the railroad station into an incubator for new firms, complete with 25 units of housing to attract and retain workers. The top 13 also includes new projects to reseed bay scallops and create an agricultural cold-storage and distribution facility at Calverton -- plus such familiar initiatives as the Ronkonkoma Hub, Wyandanch Rising and a Stony Brook-Brookhaven National Laboratory effort to make Long Island a national center for upgrading the electrical grid and making it more efficient. Sadly, but inevitably, it does not include the Nassau Hub, which is far from ready to proceed, if it ever will be.

Some felt the council should have narrowed down its top offerings further. But the 13 is a reasonable compromise, reflecting the region's diverse economy, which includes tourism and agriculture, but needs a lot more high technology.

Now it's up to Cuomo's panel, then Cuomo. In making his decisions, he should honor the process he created and be as objective as possible in picking the best plans -- on merit. The Long Island plan's creators think it's good enough to win. We agree. And it's vital to our economic future.