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What Every Long Islander Should Know: January 10, 2012

Is Long Island Ready to Roll in 2012?

This was a big year for Long Island’s economy. Just how big—remains to be seen.

The year started with great news, when the creation of Accelerate Long Island was announced last February. This coalition of leading Long Island research and economic entities represents the kind of smart thinking and bold action Long Island needs. Linking cutting edge science with entrepreneurs and venture capitalists has been the key to success for high-flying regions from San Diego to Silicon Valley. On Long Island such a collaborative effort has the potential to spawn a high-tech, bio-tech cluster that could transform our region’s economy.

The very idea of collaboration on this scale fires the imagination. Long Islanders are going to start working together? This could be huge.

Evidently New York State agrees. Last month they named Long Island among the State’s top winners of grant money for development projects—over $100 million worth. The founding of Accelerate was a key factor in Long Island’s success.

The grants go to projects with the potential for lasting impact on Long Island’s growth. But the question remains: How big is big? Are we satisfied that we won an important game . . . or are we in this for the championship?

To build a new, world-class economic sector will take more than one year and $100 million. If we really want to change Long Island’s fortunes, we still have lots of work to do.

Accelerate will have a big role to play. The coalition has now begun a national search for a director. This is a welcome sign that its leaders are thinking big.

At the same time we can’t lose sight of other critical factors. Economic growth will require talented people. And people need places to live. We can’t afford to keep losing 18-35 year-olds at twice the national rate, as we have been for the past decade. Without more affordable housing options, Long Island’s economic renaissance will be over before it begins.

Here again, other successful regions have shown the way. Places like Austin, Texas, and Silicon Valley have created communities that draw creative people like magnets. Long Island’s downtowns sit ready and waiting for re-development into attractive mixed-use communities where people of all ages will want to live, work, and recreate.

The good news is that several re-development projects were among the winners of the Regional Economic Development grants, such as mixed-use development around the Wyandanch railroad station, and at the Ronkonkoma Hub. This is a good start. But if the job is going to get done, Long Islanders at every level need to come together around it.

The successes of 2011 have spotlighted a promising future for Long Island. The goal now seems nearer and the path to it clearer than before. For 2012 let us resolve to stake our claim to this future, and to commit ourselves to the smart, bold action we’ll need to make it a reality.

Nancy Rauch Douzinas is President of the Rauch Foundation and Publisher of the Long Island Index.