By GREGORY ZELLER //
Bill Wahlig’s resignation from the Long Island Forum for Technology didn’t catch the forum by surprise.
While stopping short of saying they knew it was coming, LIFT officials appear anything but flat-footed in the wake of Wahlig’s announcement Monday that he was stepping down as executive director of the financially troubled manufacturing forum.
Barry Shorten, interim chairman of the LIFT board, told Innovate LI Tuesday that the forum had already selected Wahlig’s successor. While he wouldn’t name names, Shorten did reference a “high-level executive type” from outside the LIFT organization, and said the forum was working on a formal agreement to be announced in early August.
While stressing that Wahlig’s decision to leave was his own, Shorten also suggested that the exec’s departure was, to some extent, written on the wall.
“Bill is a very friendly guy, but I think he had just had it,” Shorten said. “I think he was frustrated.”
In particular, Shorten referenced the lengthy delay in the awarding of a 2016 Manufacturing Extension Partnership, a federal program delivering about $1 million a year to LIFT and Stony Brook University to support and promote regional manufacturing initiatives. Although the five-year award was announced in January, the funding only came through this month – one of the last straws in Wahlig’s tenure, according to Shorten.
“As a result of the delay in the awarding of the MEP, I think Bill was very frustrated by that,” the chairman said.
Wahlig could not be reached for comment.
The regional MEP program had been run exclusively by LIFT for more than a decade, but delays in the most recent contract award led to significant layoffs at the nonprofit earlier this year. LIFT has also struggled financially following the departure of Northrop Grumman as an anchor tenant at LIFT’s new homeland security accelerator in Bethpage.
While the forum is between executive directors, things will proceed full steam ahead, according to Shorten.
In a March interview with Innovate LI, the chairman predicted that LIFT’s role in the regional economy “will be changing” and acknowledged that the aerospace and manufacturing industries LIFT was created to support were no longer Long Island’s biggest economic fish.
On Tuesday, Shorten suggested the change at the top would herald some new thinking for an organization changing on the fly.
The forum is “moving forward” with Empire State Development, Albany’s main economic-development engine, on new Start-Up NY-related initiatives involving both SBU and SUNY-Old Westbury, the chairman said, and is eager to begin collaborating with Stony Brook on the fresh MEP, which officially kicked in July 1.
The million-dollar partnership, which pushes LIFT toward biotechnology development and other markets unfamiliar to a 40-year-old forum historically focused on traditional manufacturing, may be the starkest example yet of LIFT’s desire to change along with the changing face of manufacturing.
“This will allow us to do some other things,” Shorten said of the executive-director shuffle. “In my view, it was probably time for a change.”