Op-Ed

Long Island needs an innovation district

Posted

To compete effectively in a 21st-century innovation economy, Long Island needs an innovation district. The good news is that we have a perfect opportunity. The challenge is to build a consensus around it and maximize its potential for local and regional economic growth.

The importance of an innovation district is two-fold: It would provide the 24-hour, work-live-learn-play environment that technology companies and their young employees seek, and it would set a new and creative tone for the region. Long Island simply can’t compete in our metropolitan area, or with others, by offering 20th-century office parks as our proposed work environment.

The perfect opportunity is the Nassau Hub, the 77-acre parcel of prime property best known as the home of the Nassau Coliseum. Overseen by the county and the Town of Hempstead, it’s perfect, because the land is assembled, publicly controlled and near New York City.

A new study by the Long Island Index, a project of the Rauch Foundation, has proposed transforming the Nassau Hub Biotech Park, currently planned for the site, into a true innovation district. The study, titled “Nassau Hub Innovation District,” concludes that the park is too much like a traditional 9-to-5 office park. It recommends that the site have double the density and a critical mass of multifamily housing units, flexible R&D space, and greater access to public transit through a dedicated bus route to the Mineola Long Island Rail Road station.

With all that acreage, an innovation district would transform the innovation landscape on Long Island. It would increase the Biotech Park’s proposed 3.5 million square feet of development to 7.1 million, create 14,300 high-quality jobs in Nassau County (an increase of 9,100 over the existing plan) and generate more than $3.4 billion in economic activity statewide (an increase of $2.4 billion). It would add $30 million in sales tax revenue for the county (an increase of $21 million) and $47 million in property tax revenue for the county, the Town of Hempstead and Uniondale schools (an increase of $29 million).

A Nassau Hub Innovation District would be large enough to compete effectively, but still discreet by national standards. It would be comparable to the 7 million square feet of the Cortex Innovation Community in St. Louis, but well below the 19.3 million square feet of Kendall Square in Cambridge, Mass.

The importance of innovation districts is underscored in a new report from The Brookings Institution titled “Capturing the next economy: Pittsburgh’s rise as a global innovation city.” The report states: “Cities in both the United States and abroad are witnessing the emergence of dense hubs of economic activity where innovation, entrepreneurship, creativity, and placemaking intersect. At the advanced, research-led end of the economy, innovation districts are developing around anchors such as universities, medical centers, and large firms.”

Long Island needs just such a hub of economic activity to compete with nearby suburbs and other metropolitan areas and to make clear our readiness to create the highly prized jobs that Long Islanders want and need. While a Nassau Hub Innovation District would draw on Long Island’s many renowned research and educational institutions, it’s especially fortunate that the site is adjacent to Hofstra University — and its Northwell School of Medicine and Fred DeMatteis School of Engineering and Applied Science — and close to Nassau Community College.

Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center has already begun construction of a major cancer-treatment facility at the site. And NYU Winthrop Hospital is nearby as well.

This collection of assets is ideal for attracting and growing businesses. Think of the opportunities — especially in biotech — for companies that want a suburban setting near Manhattan, close proximity to a medical school and an engineering school, and easy access to other world-class research institutions, all within an innovation district offering synergies with other ambitious companies. That’s why the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council calls the Nassau Hub “potentially Long Island’s most transformative of places.”

A Nassau Hub Innovation District would be an enormous boon to Long Island, Nassau County and the Town of Hempstead. It would put all three at the center of an economic revival. That’s something that another office park will never do.

Nancy Rauch Douzinas is president of the Garden City-based Rauch Foundation, which publishes the Long Island Index.