Hard to believe, but it’s been five long years since Innovate LI last Debriefed Kevin Law, who’s now logged a full decade as President and CEO of the Long Island Association. As 2020 dawns, the primary influencer and leading architect of regional socioeconomics is enjoying another “Top Performer” effort by the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council (the council, which Law co-chairs with Hofstra University President Stuart Rabinowitz, snagged $87.9 million in Albany’s ninth-annual funding contest, its sixth “Top” award in nine years). And he’s looking ahead to a decade of growth, centered around the Department of Energy’s $2 billion-plus Electron Ion Collider project, recently announced for Brookhaven National Laboratory. But with everything that changes over time, Law notes, some of Long Island’s longstanding economic-development bugaboos still linger – and must be addressed first.
Secret sauce: I think the secret of the success of the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council is the strength of the council itself. We have a pretty diverse group and we’re all out there shaking trees to get different kinds of people to apply (for funding).
You bet your assets: But maybe the best ingredient for success is that Long Island has a lot of great assets already. It’s easier to build on that foundation, as opposed to other regions of the state that desire to create those assets, but don’t have them yet.
It’s who you know: When we’re looking to expand an engineering school at Hofstra or Stony Brook University, or help create a new cancer-discovery center at Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, the state is already aware of what these amazing institutions are doing – and is willing to bet that their investment in those institutions will be a wise one.
You can win them all (and we should): The years we didn’t win (“Top Performer” status), the state made a mistake. We always felt we had great projects and we always feel the state would be wise to invest in Long Island. And we always do a good job with our presentations to the scoring council, so we’re always surprised when we don’t win.
First things: This year, we had a really great mix of entities applying, including a lot of first-timers. A lot of East End food startups and a lot of other first-time [applicants], looking to either grow or expand. I think, after eight years, people are seeing a lot of buzz about smaller companies and not-for-profit organizations tapping into state monies, and I think that’s a big part of our success.
Prove it: We don’t automatically approve every application from [larger institutions], either. If we’re not convinced locally, we don’t run it up the food chain. We have rejected some of their applications, and I think they understand better what we like and what helps with this research corridor we’re trying to build.
Taking issue: We saw several investments in daycare this year, which is a real economic-development issue, and a lot of support for the tourism industry, like the renovation of the Montauk Lighthouse. It’s one of the iconic images of Long Island and it attracts hundreds of thousands of tourists, and it needs improvements.
Healthy chance: Also jumping out are a nursing-skills laboratory at Long Island University, a new Hofstra nursing laboratory, a lot of investment in the healthcare field. And projects focused on workforce training of the future – training people in growth areas at the new Stony Brook Laser Teaching Center and the new Applied Sciences Building at Farmingdale State College.
Collision course: The news of the Department of Energy awarding the new ion collider to BNL excites me most about the coming decade. That is going to be the lynchpin of the research corridor on Long Island, and reverberate around the region for the next several decades.
The more things change: Affordable housing is still an enormous struggle on Long Island, and has to be part of any discussion about the innovation economy here. If we want to attract and retain workers in certain high-growth fields, we have to make sure they have affordable places to live.
Slow build: People are talking more about the housing issue and we’re making progress in several towns and villages. But there’s still a long way to go.
Interview by Gregory Zeller