It’s become axiomatic to say the future of Long Island depends on us keeping our young people here. It’s true, but it’s true everywhere.
For generations, we benefited from a predictable life cycle. High school grads leave for college, move to big cities or other exciting locales for young adulthood, then return to raise families and send kids to school.
Now that circle is fractured. And the kids aren’t coming back — certainly not as early as they used to, and maybe never.
Big cities, especially New York, have become safer, more attractive places to live — even for families. Go to Cobble Hill in Brooklyn and check out the young adults pushing strollers.
Changing this new paradigm requires we do two things: Diversify our housing so young people have places in which they want to live. Create more good jobs so they can afford it.
One without the other won’t get it done.
We’re making progress on housing. Not enough to fill our needs — rentals of every type fill as quickly as they’re built — but enough to see momentum.
Some downtowns are being redeveloped smartly — by leaders who either no longer see a political liability in supporting such projects or decide they’re going to do the right thing despite that. Mostly, it’s village mayors. Others need to get on board, too.
These face-lifts are giving the young some of what they want — easy access to train stations and walkable neighborhoods energized by restaurants and entertainment venues.
But where are the jobs?
Our unemployment rate is down, yes, but the jobs we’re adding are not high-paying. We keep losing businesses that do offer that kind of employment — about 20 in the past year either reduced their presence on Long Island, moved their headquarters off-Island or left completely, according to the Long Island Association. And our property taxes, energy costs and traffic make it hard to lure businesses — other than big-box stores dangling relatively low-paying retail positions — from elsewhere.
The only way forward is to help our existing businesses expand and to grow our own new ones — the future Grummans that could employ thousands of Long Islanders. The best way to do that is to make viable enterprises of what we already do well — the cutting-edge research at our universities and labs. Efforts are underway, but there’s no home run on the short-term horizon. That doesn’t mean we should despair, or stop swinging. Or stop exploring big ideas.
Accelerate Long Island, which promotes high-tech company growth, has funded five local startups focused on bioscience or clean energy. Five more are close to being funded. We need more venture capital for these initiatives, where the payoffs can be massive.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is expected to announce soon the fourth round of regional economic development grants. The first three created 800 permanent jobs, with 40,000 projected if all plans come to fruition. That might be unlikely, but the potential is enticing.
Cuomo’s Start-Up NY program — tax-free zones on college campuses for incubators and tech startups — also has potential, but is in its infancy. Stony Brook University has a handful of tenants; Farmingdale State College and LIU Post are looking for their first ones.
As early as next month, Cuomo and state legislators will start to dole out $5 billion in budget surplus and bank settlement funds. The LIA is preparing a list of Long Island priorities — infrastructure projects that would create good jobs. Our delegation in Albany must fight hard for our share.
Long Island created suburbia. Now we’re trying to remake it. The journey is neither easy nor short. But we have to take it.
Michael Dobie is a member of the Newsday editorial board.