Long Island is a great place to live. We have excellent schools, beautiful beaches, superb recreation facilities and many more admirable features. Our proximity to New York City makes us even more desirable for potential residents. In time, we may even have a railroad that delivers on-time service. But what we lack is a new, major employer willing to invest in Nassau and Suffolk counties.
We are fortunate to still have numerous offices of Fortune 500 companies whose executives are loyal to their local communities. We have countless small businesses that are growing and adding new employees. What is lacking is a coordinated effort on the part of our public officials to aggressively seek new investment in the Island as a whole.
Our two counties have industrial development agencies that provide generous tax benefits, and there are numerous IDAs in almost every town that are dedicated to attracting business. Somehow, though, our elected officials have yet to band together to fight for new business for Long Island. Each of the IDAs promotes its own business development programs, but there is a crying need for a joint effort to promote the Island as a package.
Nassau and Suffolk counties have bright, productive and visionary county executives. They work hard for their constituents, and fight to maintain a good quality of life for those they serve. But somehow, for the past 50-plus years, there has never been an effort to work as a team to get that one big corporate fish that will settle here with the promise of new jobs and new technology.
For as far back as I can remember, the Long Island Association has held an annual breakfast that features presentations by the Nassau and Suffolk executives. The leaders extol the virtues of their counties and discuss new plans to make their part of the Island a better place. Perhaps once in all those breakfasts I heard the two executives pledge to unite and sell the bi-county area as a united community.
The counties do work together on such issues as crime, traffic and public emergencies like hurricanes and other disasters. But there is still no talk of, “Let’s get together and aggressively promote the island as a whole.” Our elected officials occasionally announce some program that requires regional cooperation. We have a good regional planning organization, and a number of smaller business organizations that promote their members’ operations. When it comes to thinking big, however, we fall short.
A case in point was the last-minute effort to attract the attention of Amazon as it was looking all over America for a suitable site for new headquarters. Late in the game, County Executives Ed Mangano (since succeeded by Laura Curran) and Steve Bellone held a press event touting the benefits of Nassau and Suffolk, but it in no way matched the kind of aggressive and comprehensive presentations that major cities around the country were packaging and promoting.
As proof of the mindset that the counties don’t think regionally, consider the construction of a police academy. Twenty-five years ago, two commissions recommended that Nassau and Suffolk build one large academy that would serve both counties. But in the end, Nassau will build its own new academy, and Suffolk, too, will do its own thing.
In 1968, the State Legislature, at the request of the Long Island Association, approved legislation to create a Long Island Regional Development Authority. It was signed into law, and the agency existed on paper until 2000, when it was wiped off the books. I know that historical fact because I sponsored the law. It had great potential, but somehow wound up in the dustbin of local history.
This column isn’t a knock on any single public official. There’s no doubt that our county executives have enough of their own daily headaches and challenges. But I hope someday we’ll hear about a new and dramatic proposal to promote our bi-county area as one combined region.
Jerry Kremer was a state assemblyman for 23 years, and chaired the Assembly’s Ways and Means Committee for 12 years. He now heads Empire Government Strategies, a business development and legislative strategy firm. Comments about this column? JKremer@liherald.com.