I recently attended a breakfast meeting, and sat in a room full of successful business leaders along with a large number of attorneys. The subject was the business climate on Long Island, and somehow I left the event slightly depressed. While some companies are making a lot of money, that doesn’t make up for the fact that Long Island really needs a major boost from someone and from somewhere.
There’s no question that, locally, we are blessed with some great natural resources. We have spectacular beaches, wonderful parks and many historic sites. We have a talented workforce and many skilled young people who are eager to live on Long Island, but something is missing: leadership. I’m not talking only about politicians. We have a handful of hard-working elected officials, but the region could use a lot more. We have quite a few successful company executives, but we could use some more success stories.
As a follower of both the local and national media, I would love to see announcements more often that a major company has decided to plant its flag in one of our two counties. Many of our smaller and midsized companies are enjoying record profits and have dedicated employees. The health care dynamos such as Northwell are booming, and more and more major hospitals are becoming affiliated with our local health care centers, which means good jobs and access to more skilled medical services.
While I don’t expect Amazon or Facebook to build a gigantic headquarters here, I don’t get the feeling that there are any Long Islanders out there knocking on the doors of those companies’ executives, like elected officials used to do years ago. Suffolk County has been much more aggressive, thanks to the hard work of County Executive Steve Bellone, but Nassau County, with a host of budget headaches, is sound asleep when it comes to recruiting new companies to this great area. There are three towns in the county, and they all function as separate entities. It would be productive if they would sit down one day and figure out how to promote the whole county, to make up for its failure to attract big businesses.
Another headache that is perplexing is the lack of affordable housing for young people. The recent announcement that the Long Island Rail Road’s third track project is moving ahead should encourage young people to settle here, because they would have a much shorter commute to and from the city. When Grand Central Station and Penn Station become interconnected, it will be another incentive for our college graduates to stay here. There are a few scattered housing initiatives on the market or being planned, but the problem is there are only a few. We need more prominent builders to create moderate-priced housing.
We have many smart planning people on Long Island, and they’re capable of coming up with new ideas about how the area should look over the next 20 years. We have some great educational institutions that have exciting programs that will produce smart potential leaders — if they stay here. What we don’t have is a connection among all the different parts of this great bi-county area.
Long Island is desperately in need of a better road system. Comedians have always had a lot of fun talking about delays on the Long Island Expressway, but it’s no laughing matter for those of us who drive to work, shop or take care of personal business. The Northern and Southern State parkways could desperately use some new federal or state highway money. To his credit, State Sen. Todd Kaminsky recently managed to get funds for the Nassau Expressway, but no other public official is leading the charge to get more money for our roads.
If ever there was a time for the public and private sectors to find ways to stimulate discussion of the needs of Long Island, it’s now. This is a great place to live, but it’s time to make it even greater.
Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.