Tech plays center stage in latest funding contest

Economic Development Council co-chair Stuart Rabinowitz of Hofstra University: A focus on innovation and biotechnology.

With visions of a thriving innovation economy front and center, Long Island business and academic leaders are shooting for $105 million in commercialization funds through the annual Regional Economic Development Council competition.

The Long Island council, comprised of more than 20 businesspeople and academicians appointed by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, pored over 254 applications from Nassau and Suffolk companies, governments and nonprofits – the highest number of applications since the contest launched on 2011 – to determine those most worthy of state support. All told, the local council’s recommendations cover 27 projects, with a clear emphasis on biotech, which many consider the region’s best hope for a new economic anchor.

Among the recommended projects announced this week are vaccine-development research at a Farmingdale State College-led consortium, new high-tech laboratories for Stony Brook University, a public/private research “discovery park” spun out of Brookhaven National Laboratory and an NYIT cybersecurity incubator.

Not every project included in the council’s recommendations involves technology. The Town of Islip, for instance, is looking for state assistance on a project that would renovate an existing building on the grounds of Long Island MacArthur Airport to host a federal inspection station – a key step toward bringing international flights to the Islip aerodrome.

But for every American Racing Headers proposal – the Deer Park-based automotive parts manufacturer needs new equipment to grow its Middle Eastern export business – there’s a call for new laboratory and research equipment at Mineola’s Winthrop-University Hospital and a request for funding that would allow Accelerate Long Island to provide grants to promising tech startups.

The proposal also seeks money for a Hofstra University entrepreneurship incubator that would join the Start-Up NY program.

All told, one-third of the projects on the council’s recommended list involve technology and biotech concerns.

Non-tech proposals include design and infrastructure funding for the Nassau Hub project; the creation of a hiking/biking trail to complement the proposed Nicolls Road transit corridor; a refurbished, eco-friendly community center for Long Island’s LGBT community; and the installation of mesh-enclosed, steel-framed “aquapods” off the East End to raise striped bass.

Other non-tech proposals making the cut: the construction of a Suffolk County agricultural tourism center and the creation of a Molloy College “collaboratorium” to help school kids prepare for college and the job market.

But even some of the non-tech proposals on the council’s short list have tech overtones.

In addition to the new lab equipment, Winthrop-University Hospital is also seeking funds to add parking outside its Mineola Research Institute. Northwell Health – the just-renamed North Shore-LIJ Health System – is looking to expand its Center for Learning and Innovation, with an eye toward retraining current and new employees for tech-related work. The Nassau Hub funds are also earmarked to help project managers attract high-tech and biotech businesses to a massive renovation effort ultimately projected to create 8,000 new jobs.

But straight-up tech and biotech efforts ruled the council’s 2015 roost. Besides those new wet labs for the technology incubator at Stony Brook University, there are proposals to expand SBU’s Cyclotron and Radiochemistry Lab, add equipment and jobs at Commack-based Avery Biomedical Devices and build a high-pressure processing facility at East Northport-based North Harbor Trading Corp., enhancing the shelf life of regional agriculture and food products.

Long Island has been a big winner in previous REDC competitions. Island proposals snagged over $81 million in 2014, the second consecutive year and third overall that the Long Island region was named a top performer in the annual contest.

The 2015 winners are slated to be announced by Cuomo late this fall.