The Debrief: Getting LIFT up where it belongs

Barry Shorten: New thinking for LIFT.

Plenty of ups and downs lately for the Long Island Forum for Technology. First came news that a major federal contract has been held up by a competitor’s challenge, then a resulting layoff affecting half of the organization’s staff of eight. Some happier news on Monday, though, as SUNY Old Westbury announced plans for a Start-Up NY incubator in LIFT’s Bethpage headquarters, a much-needed boost for the 90,000-square-foot, tenant-deprived facility. It’s also a major lift for LIFT, according to board chairman Barry Shorten, also EVP of Farmingdale’s Alcott HR, who believes the forum’s brightest days may still lie ahead. His words:  

FIRST, THE BAD NEWS: The layoffs really had more to do with the delay in the Manufacturing Extension Partnership award (five years, $5 million in partnership with Stony Brook University) than LIFT’s performance. It was supposed to begin at the start of January, but there’s been a protest and unfortunately the award has not been made. Therefore, there was nothing for our people to do. This was an unfortunate but necessary business decision – and a prudent one, in terms of the business.

BRING ’EM BACK: Rehiring some or all of those laid-off staffers is hopefully the plan, once the contract dispute is resolved.

START-UP OF SOMETHING: The Start-Up NY incubator is a continuation of LIFT’s mission of economic development and jobs creation. It fits perfectly under our umbrella. It fills up space that’s not currently being utilized, but more importantly, the real benefit is it gives us a chance to help more companies, which leads directly to growth in the services we can offer.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE: In addition to the state approving our sponsorship by SUNY Old Westbury, we expect that will be another announcement in the not-too-distant future, this time involving Stony Brook University. Stony Brook has to sponsor us to be part of their Start-Up NY arrangement, just as SUNY Old Westbury has done. The paperwork is in progress and I would expect the application will go in as early as next week.

THE MORE, THE MERRIER: Servicing Start-Up NY companies (through SBU) only increases our ability to grow our programs and help more companies in the future.

CHANGING ROLE: LIFT’s role hasn’t changed yet, but it will be changing. The technical roadmap for companies on Long Island is different now. When LIFT formed 40 years ago, it was created to service the aerospace and manufacturing industries. They’re no longer the only game in town. And the very nature of manufacturing has changed, so we’re changing with it.

BACK TO SCHOOL: You see this a great deal with things like our new Composite Prototyping Center. Our educational roll is what’s changing most. We’ve already had a number of school districts sending us young people for training in composites and introductions to modern manufacturing, and in conjunction with the United Way, we recently graduated a group of 17 [armed services] veterans from our program. I know of at least one of them who completed the course and is already working in the field, specifically made possible by the manufacturing education we’re offering.

PILING IT ON: So the very nature of how LIFT educates people and businesses is changing, and we hope to increase those services a great deal. A big part of our mission is job creation, but there has to be skilled people ready and waiting to fill those jobs.

INNOVATION ESTIMATION: The Long Island innovation economy has its plusses and minuses. We have amazing minds here who create great ideas, but when they come to fruition, the people who develop them still tend to move them off Long Island. That should be depressing news to all of us. I’m not an economist, but I can’t say it’s getting any better – it’s either staying the same or getting worse.

COMMON CAUSE: It’s an expensive place to live and do business. And there’s never enough that can be done to change that. But if we address our major problems, and industries can focus on spreading the message that housing costs and utility costs and everyone’s tax burdens are too high, then we can start to deal with the negatives.

Interview by Gregory Zeller