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Editorial: State economic grants must translate to jobs

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announces development fund recipients

Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo announces development fund recipients in Albany. Long Island firms won $59.7 million last year. (Dec. 10, 2013) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Every little bit helps when recovering from the hangover of a punishing economic implosion and the devastation of superstorm Sandy. So finishing first in the state competition for regional economic development dollars is a significant win for Long Island.

The region was awarded $83 million for 98 job-creation projects this month, out of $716 million distributed statewide. Long Island is home to more than 1.3 million jobs, the vast majority in the private sector. So the 344 new jobs the projects are expected to create, and the 23,381 they are expected to help retain, won't have a huge immediate economic impact -- unless you happen to be one of the people doing the work.

But the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council's focus on projects to help grow and retain companies in biotech, energy, manufacturing and information technology will help nudge Long Island toward a future in the hyper-competitive high-tech sector. That's where we need to go, and our local grants -- such as $2 million for a cancer-drug development center at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, $1 million for a robotics lab at Hofstra University and $1 million to expand Brookhaven National Laboratory's solar array to include a multi-region electric-grid test facility -- are steps in the right direction.

While inching toward that future, Long Island's present wasn't neglected. The council also won grants for projects in health care, hospitality and tourism. All the grants come with a claw-back provision. That's important; employers who don't create or retain the jobs they promise should repay the money. The program is entering its third year, so it's too soon to tell if any claw-backs would be appropriate. But the state should be ruthless in demanding that projects it funds deliver.

Seeding job creation is tough. Governments at all levels have, at best, achieved mixed results. After finishing first in dollars, Long Island should strive to finish first in results.