THE BLOG

Ending the Stagnation in Long Island's Economy

03/10/2015 05:26 pm ET | Updated May 10, 2015

The Long Island economy has been stagnating for decades and, according to a new report, will decline further unless a concerted strategy is implemented to end it. Fortunately, the report reveals that strategy: expanding the biomedical industry and increasing multifamily housing. Combined with enhancements to reverse commuting (from New York City to Long Island), this provides an exciting opportunity to revitalize the region's economy and grow much-needed jobs.

The new report -- titled "Long Island's Future: Economic Implications of Today's Choices" -- was published last month by the Long Island Index, a project of the Rauch Foundation. It projects that Long Island's economy will stagnate over the next 25 years -- with jobs growing at a lower rate than in the 1990s and 2000s. But it offers a dramatically different picture, if the biomedical industry and multifamily housing are expanded simultaneously. In that case, as compared to baseline trends, the report projects between 44,500 and 73,000 new jobs by 2040; between 82,000 and 138,000 new residents by 2040, and between $9.5 billion and $15.1 billion in new gross regional product in 2040.

Long Island's biomedical industry is key to this growth, because it includes such powerhouse resources as Brookhaven National Laboratory, Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory, and Stony Brook University, as well as the North Shore-LIJ Health System, among others. In underscoring the opportunity for expansion, the report highlights the potential of the Route 110 corridor, which now has more than one million square feet of vacant office space and 500,000 square feet of vacant industrial space.

The recent announcement by Canon U.S.A. Inc. -- that it will create a health care subsidiary, Canon Biomedical Inc., and base it in Melville along the Route 110 corridor -- only confirms the potential of this strategy. But it should be just the first of many decisions to stimulate an even more dynamic biomedical industry on Long Island.

Multifamily housing is the other part of the strategy, because Long Island -- renowned for its single-family homes -- has too few housing options to compete successfully for jobs with other suburban areas. Employees today, especially recent college graduates, want a wider variety of choices, the option of renting, and the opportunity to live in transit-oriented downtowns with easy access to New York City. If Long Island does not offer those choices, the jobs will go elsewhere.

Multifamily housing -- and transit-oriented downtowns in particular -- would support the suburban character of Long Island by preserving existing neighborhoods, farmland, and open space. The Long Island Index and the Regional Plan Association identified in 2010 a total of 8,300 acres within a half-mile of Long Island Rail Road stations and downtowns available for infill development.

Yet even with that two-pronged strategy there would still be a need for enhanced reverse commuting. Commuting on Long Island has historically been into New York City in the morning and back in the evening. The reverse has never been a priority, and the Long Island Rail Road cannot offer the needed capacity for reverse commuting without adding an additional track -- known as the Third Track or, as I prefer to call it, the Fast Track -- at a key bottleneck in the current rail system.

The subject of reverse commuting is the focus of a Long Island Index report published last year and titled "The Economic and Fiscal Impacts of the Long Island Rail Road Main Line Third Track". It analyzes the projected economic impact of adding an additional track to a 9.8-mile segment of the LIRR Main Line between Floral Park and Hicksville to determine the value to the region of opening the bottleneck that is currently restricting rail traffic and limiting opportunities for reverse commuting. That report estimates that the Fast Track would generate by 2035 (10 years after its completion) 14,000 new jobs, $5.6 billion in additional gross regional product, $3 billion in additional personal income, and 35,400 new residents to Long Island.

Both reports underscore the extraordinary opportunity that Long Island has to revitalize the economy and grow jobs. It's an opportunity that exists despite the current economic stagnation. We need to seize it now and make stagnation a thing of the past.

Nancy Rauch Douzinas is President of the Rauch Foundation.