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What Every Long Islander Should Know: February 1, 2012

Long Island at a Tipping Point

I often get curious looks when I tell people that Long Island could be the next Silicon Valley or San Diego. Believe it or not, we’re not so far off.

Like Silicon Valley and San Diego, Long Island is ripe with innovation. We have world-class research centers like Brookhaven National Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory and the Feinstein Institute at North Shore LIJ. We also have successful research universities in Stony Brook University, Hofstra University and Farmingdale to name a few. These institutions are having an impact.

As the newly released Long Island Index report shows, our science and engineering sectors are growing. Long Island has already created nearly 46,000 technology jobs. From 2000-2010, federal funding for research and development increased 50 percent. Over the past three years, Long Island churned out over 2,000 patents – a record for our region. Last year, Long Island was second only to Silicon Valley in the number of small business grants.

Our region’s leaders have taken notice and started to take action to foster further growth in these sectors. Chief among these efforts was the creation of Accelerate Long Island. Operating under the auspices of the Long Island Association, Accelerate was modeled after San Diego’s highly successful organization Connect and represents a serious effort to overcome turf issues and get Long Island working together to commercialize and benefit from the inventions created here. The Island’s success in competing for New York State innovation dollars – which brought in $101 million – is a testament to the positive things that can happen here.

All of this is good news and shows that we are on the right track, but there are still pieces missing from the puzzle. Pieces that are preventing Long Island from realizing its potential as a truly innovative region.

What’s holding us back are some of the same seemingly intractable Long Island issues that we’ve been grappled with for years – (1) Not enough housing choices that people want and can afford, like apartments in our downtown areas; (2) A cumbersome, slow-moving and costly government, and (3) Perhaps the hardest thing of all to overcome, our fear of and reluctance to change.

That last part is the toughest one of all because it means that we never really test what our potential might be. As a result, things just get worse.

Of course, San Diego and Silicon Valley had their own heavy lifting to do in order to take off as innovation hubs. What we Long Islanders need to do is become more active and start talking about these issues in our homes, with friends, at dinner parties, at public meetings and at the deli. We need to support those courageous leaders who stand up to tackle the tough housing and bureaucratic issues that have been holding us back.

Who knows…with this level of engagement and innovation, the overall quality of life on Long Island might just tip in our favor.

Nancy Rauch Douzinas is president of the Rauch Foundation, a family foundation that supports innovative programs centered on children and the environment. For more information visit www.rauchfoundation.org.