Elected officials representing Long Island on a town, county, state, and federal level joined CMM Managing Partner and HIA-LI Board Chairman Joe Campolo, HIA-LI President & CEO Terri Alessi-Miceli, and fellow board members at the Board Legislative Breakfast on October 29, 2019. Joe addressed the dignitaries about the importance of tradable industries in the LI Innovation Park at Hauppauge, HIA-LI’s relentless efforts to grow these business clusters, and the areas where legislative support is critical. This type of advocacy is key to growing and building on the economic potential of the Park and the Island we call home. Below are Joe’s remarks from the meeting.

Good morning. Today we are here to discuss the newly renamed Long Island Innovation Park at Hauppauge, a tiny 11-square-mile patch of land located primarily within the town of Smithtown, with a small piece in the town of Islip. Contained within these 11 square miles are about 1,400 companies run by some of the most innovative minds in the country.

The economic output of the Park over the past few years has been well documented and discussed, as has the fact that it is the second largest industrial park in the country, the first being Silicon Valley. These facts attracted the interest of our friends at the Suffolk IDA who, along with the RPA, commissioned an Opportunity Analysis to do a deeper dive into the businesses that reside in the Park and come up with initiatives to further anchor the Park to Long Island’s revitalized economy.

In April of this year, after an almost year-long process, the IDA released the more than 160-page report, and the conclusions were staggering – in addition to verifying the prior economic analysis that had been conducted on the Park, this report also found that the Park has the largest concentration of tradable businesses not only on Long Island, but also is a full 20% above the national average for tradable business clusters. 

Why is this so monumental? Well, to a region’s economy, tradable industries are a very big deal. Every ecosystem must include non-tradable businesses – the things that directly support the personal needs of the neighborhood in which the business is located and its citizens. Thus, every community will have barbers, gas stations, delis, laundromats, 7-11s, etc. And while these businesses play an important role, they typically employ local people who don’t require enhanced skills and who on average receive lower wages. These businesses are also fully dependent on the immediate residents of that location to consume their goods or services; there is simply not a synergy of either workers or customers who are going to commute a great deal for them. Therefore, dollars from non-tradable industries are non-growth dollars – they are simply being circulated around an area, without new dollars coming in.

High performing ecosystems, however, will also include a mix of tradable businesses, which are the businesses that aren’t dependent on customers from their immediate neighborhoods to thrive – these industries include aerospace, biopharma, manufacturing, IT, and others who have chosen to be there for reasons other than direct access to customers. These businesses enhance any community they’re in because they vastly increase the local tax base by paying higher wages, which not only helps the government but also greatly stimulates the local non-tradable economy. Tradable industries also attract skilled workers to relocate here from other states and cities, which also greatly helps grow our tax base without having to continue to raise taxes – exactly what we were trying to accomplish with Amazon coming to Long Island City. An ecosystem with too few tradable businesses suffers greatly because it finds itself simply recirculating dollars rather than growing the pie – an economy with no tradable businesses will collapse, as we saw with Detroit and Flint, Michigan.  

Thus, it is imperative for sustained prosperity to cultivate and grow the number of tradable businesses in any region, causing us to look at why some areas are better than others at attracting and retaining these businesses. And as I mentioned earlier, the Opportunity Analysis has shown that while the national average for tradable business clusters is 38%, that percentage is much higher – 58% – in the Park.  Having realized this staggering disparity, a large part of the investigation into the report focused on the “why” – why is this little 11-square-mile tract of land in the middle of Long Island such a hotbed for tradable industries, and the answer, almost uniformly, was that it was due to the ability for those businesses to have access to a highly skilled workforce.

Understanding all that, we now know how critical to Long Island it is to maintain, if not grow, this high percentage of tradable business in the Park, for to lose them would be catastrophic. Tradable businesses are our only way to attract and keep the recent grads of our own educational organizations, who are all too often lured away by the glitz of NYC or Silicon Valley.

Thus, the Opportunity Analysis set forth a very detailed action plan of ways for all stakeholders – private business, government, education, and the HIA-LI – to partner together to make sure that we keep this vitality alive in our Park and on Long Island. The key strategies include facilitation of business growth; attracting and retaining knowledge workers; strengthening training and workforce development; promoting innovation and technology transfer; and connecting business, governments, and institutions.

I am proud to report that immediately following the Opportunity Analysis, the HIA-LI commissioned a Task Force comprised of Board members who are leaders in their respective fields to ensure that this critical initiative moves forward. As is typical with the HIA-LI, we have fully embraced this, have rolled up our sleeves, and are getting things done. Most recently, the action item of exploring the possibility of a workforce development center to be created in the park was presented to the Long Island Regional Planning Council, which, after testimony, declared this project one of regional significance and issued a grant to further develop the workforce initiative. We are very thankful for that support, and that initiative is moving forward as we speak. 

We are also working hard to move forward other initiatives the report identified as critical, such as a greenway connection throughout the Park, creating innovation nodes, holding job fairs and community open houses, creating a one-stop business resource center, promoting ride-sharing and establishing shuttle bus service, and enhancing work-life culture. And while this is long and daunting road, our resolve is fierce and our efforts are relentless to move this initiative forward, as we all simply have too much riding on it.

None of the progress we’ve made so far would be possible without the support, cooperation and partnership with our elected officials, and we can’t move forward without it. We need legislative support when it comes to the Regional Workforce Training Center; making zoning changes; allowing new mixed-use buildings are select locations; modifying dimensional and density regulations; and allowing new structures to be clipped on to big-box factory buildings.  

During this process I have learned that not only is Long Island a national treasure, but we are a national model for how business and government should partner, and how bipartisan cooperation and support, rather than cheap tweets or insults, is how we on Long Island operate and get things done. During this entire process there has been nothing but interest in helping on all levels, particularly from the Towns of Smithtown and Islip and the County of Suffolk.  Never once did I hear any political issue or ramification be discussed – only a true desire to help make our economy as robust as possible.  In today’s world, this is a huge accomplishment and something we as Long Islanders should all be aware of and proud of. 

Thus, in the coming weeks and months, we are going to be reaching out to all of you directly to ask for your support on this important project.