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OPINION: LI can bring more businesses to life - organically

Robert A. Scott is president of Adelphi University and a member of the board of the Long Island Association.

Throughout the country, there's talk of economic development, new plans for growth, incentives for job creation, "blue ribbon panels" to solicit and recruit new businesses to locate in target areas. Long Island is no different.

The local media greeted Kevin Law's recent appointment as president of the Long Island Association with stories describing the priority to retain and recruit businesses so as to increase the number of (hopefully) well-paying jobs here.

But this important priority needs a fine point: Long Island has a rich history as the home to entrepreneurs who build businesses, not as the target location for businesses seeking to grow in a new location.

Business on Long Island, now and in the past, has been homegrown, springing organically from the seeds of ideas, capital and an educated workforce. Think of Grumman, Computer Associates, OSI, Arrow and Fonar, among others. All started here. Even now, the percentage of Long Island jobs from business expansion far outweighs the number from businesses moving in.

We know why companies don't move to Long Island: high taxes, multiple and overlapping governmental entities making zoning approvals difficult and expensive, traffic congestion, expensive energy, and a lack of lower cost and rental housing, all of which affect the conditions for attracting venture capital.

Yet, we also know that venture funds follow ideas, and that businesses have grown and prospered on Long Island. So instead of focusing on new employers, let's work on how to help local entrepreneurs build a prototype that will attract investors willing to fund the next stages of development. Let's turn organic growth into strategic growth.

In many parts of the world, such organic growth is fostered by a combination of private sector, government and universities. The institutions of higher education are often the entities that create, disseminate and apply the knowledge that generates new products and jobs.

In September, State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli issued a report titled "The Economic Impact of Higher Education in New York State," highlighting the role universities play as economic engines both in their own right and as partners. There's some experience with this on Long Island; after all, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory offers doctoral degrees as a university, and new ventures have been hatched at Stony Brook University.

But we need to accelerate the process and improve the prospects for a more sustainable economy by fostering collaboration for the good of the region and our neighbors. Faculty and alumni from Long Island's numerous colleges should join with angel-fund investors, entrepreneurs and business owners to discuss how we can grow our economy again.

We have the basic ingredients - attractive communities, good schools and a talented populace. We need a plan with priorities.


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