Few individuals play as influential a role in the Long Island economy as Kevin Law, president and CEO of the Long Island Association, chairman of business booster Accelerate Long Island and co-chair of the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council. We chatted about unemployment, infrastructure and Derek Jeter. In Kevin’s words:
OK, JETER FIRST: We’re thrilled that Derek Jeter will be the guest speaker at our LIA fall luncheon in October. We had Mitt Romney in the spring, I’ve had Jeb Bush, I had Hillary. We thought about Trump but he wouldn’t be a good fit for us. He’s a tough guy to interview. He doesn’t listen to the questions and he over-talks you to death, plus we’d have so many protestors, so who needs it? None of the others we considered would be as huge a draw as Jeter.
ENDLESS SUMMER: We’ve been busy doing work on the projects we want to submit for Round 5 of the Regional Economic Development Council awards. In September, we’ll be deciding which projects to approve and send to Albany.
WATER, WATER EVERYWHERE: Just because we weren’t included in Gov. Cuomo’s recent press release (regarding low-interest state loans for water infrastructure projects, announced Wednesday), that doesn’t equate to the governor not committing to Long Island water projects. Last fall, he announced $480 million worth of sewage infrastructure improvements on Long Island. There’s also $550 million in the state budget earmarked for Long Island, and we’re in the midst of identifying water infrastructure projects that could be included in those funds. So there could be even more water money coming.
THAT BEING SAID: It’s absolutely true that we send $5 billion more to Albany each year (in taxes and fees) than we get back. A good chunk of that is because we have a very progressive income tax in New York, and Long Islanders tend to make more money than most other regions, except for New York City. But there are still some things we can do to reduce the deficit, and we’re exploring those options now.
ALWAYS THINKING: We have a committee working on changes to the tax code and changes to funding formulas in terms of how funding for programs is distributed. We’re hoping to release our findings before the end of the year, and then use them as leverage in January, when the Legislature goes back into session.
THE BRIGHT SIDE: Despite some of our challenges, including the very high cost of doing business, Long Island has the lowest unemployment in the state. And some big projects are actually getting done here. Work on the new coliseum is going to start this week, the Ronkonkoma Hub is moving forward, Heartland is on the verge of getting approvals from the Town of Islip. These are all good signs.
CONCERNS: No. 1 is property taxes. We still have some of the highest in the country. No. 2, despite some gains, is the lack of diversity in our housing supply. If we’re trying to attract and retain a younger workforce, we have to realize that many of them don’t want or need a traditional, single-family detached home. We’re seeing more diversity in our housing supply lately, but we still need more to meet their demands.
FORWARD MARCH: Our best opportunities moving forward are in the innovation and biotechnology areas, based on the research assets we already have in place. I see real progress there. You have Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory announcing a clinical relationship with North Shore-LIJ. You have Cold Spring and Stony Brook doing things together. And they’re all getting more support from local, state and federal sources. You even hear our county executives touting our research institutions, something they never mentioned in the past. So the collaboration is there.
THE NEED FOR SEED: I’m a little biased, but I think the seed-level investments by Accelerate and the Long Island Emerging Technologies Fund are critically important. We found a void on Long Island – some companies were able to attract angel funds, some were able to attract venture capital, but the fledgling, emerging companies were being boxed out. The funds supported by Topspin (Partners) and Jove (Equity Partners) have been critical in helping some of these companies get off the ground and get into a position to attract additional capital.
THE BIG MO: Capital attracts capital. Successful companies will attract other successful companies. And when there’s a buzz and people see there’s something happening on Long Island, then they’ll say, ‘Wow, look at all the assets there, look at the research institutions, and I can be in Manhattan in an hour or out in the Hamptons in an hour.’ Suddenly, Long Island becomes a really cool place.
Interview by GREGORY ZELLER