Business leaders talk growing L.I. economy

Tom McCarthy
From left, Eric Alexander, Lisa Mirabile and Harry Coghlan. (Photo by Tom McCarthy)

Long Island, while expensive, has a lot of potential to grow economically and become a place for millennials to live and find work, business experts said in a round table discussion at Blank Slate Media two weeks ago.

“I think we’re in an area of opportunity right now,” Harry Coghlan, CEO and executive director of the Nassau County Industrial Development Agency, said. “I see industries that we can tap into.”

The Oct. 17 round table was joined by Coghlan, Lisa Mirabile, president of advertising and marketing firm Vertigo Media Group, and Eric Alexander, director of Vision Long Island, which partners with communities across the island to promote economic revitalization and stability.

Mark Meinberg, partner-in-charge of accounting firm EisnerAmper’s Long Island office, who could not attend, discussed the issues in a telephone interview Monday.

Coghlan said new industries can benefit the economy like the renewable energy sector due to the climate measures signed into law by Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

The problem is that while the economy is doing well, positions have become more specialized, Coghlan said.

“Right now, we’re a victim of our own success because that low unemployment rate creates challenges,” Coghlan said. “On our side, we have clients that are having issues staffing up in specialized areas.”

These areas include specialized machinery, manufacturing and engineering, Coghlan said.

Some other “growth sectors” include the film and TV production industry. Grumman Studios has even begun to expand into Port Washington from Bethpage, Coghlan said.

Streaming services like Netflix, Hulu and Disney are constantly trying to outdo each other and are setting up production facilities in New York due to state tax incentives, Coghlan said.

“You talk about attracting millennials. It’s about those exciting industries,” Coghlan said.

Meinberg said that it is imperative for employers to listen to what is important for millennials. While they do want to work, they may not want to work as their mothers and fathers did, Meinberg said.

Mirabile said that as an incentive to have millennials stay engaged, her marketing firm offers “flex time” to employees. Rather than adhering to the traditional 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. lifestyle, Mirabile’s employee can work whenever they want throughout the day as long as the work is getting done and deadlines are being met, she said.

“If you’re more comfortable working 10 p.m. through the night go for it,” Mirabile said.

To combat expensive living on Long Island, Alexander said, despite the fact that his organization is a nonprofit he hires workers at a $50,000 minimum.

“Just because we have a good economy doesn’t mean it’s cheap to live here,” Alexander said.

Small-business owners and general market brands must also accept changing demographics on Long Island, Mirabile said, adding that her company accepts that Long Island is a diverse community. Demographics and research show that Hispanic culture is on the rise, she said.

“You have to show and pay a nod and pay respect to what’s here on Long Island. We are a diverse community,” Mirabile said.

Mirabile said that five languages are used in her office and applauded T-Mobile for using “Spanglish,” showcasing a mix of English and Spanish, in its advertisements.

Education has been growing on the island and will result in more educated workers, Mirabile said. People are coming from areas like Brooklyn to the island for universities like Hofstra and Stony Brook, Mirabile said.

On downtown revitalization efforts, Alexander said that polarization and extremism can detrimentally affect zoning and business changes that could greatly help Long Island.

‘We have a tendency to zoom in on bad news and we zoom in on polarization. In fact, we promote polarization at every turn,” Alexander said.

Media coverage often covers big projects as “who’s for and who’s against,” Alexander said.

The hyper-locality of suburbs can actually help community members get together to get things done, Alexander said.

“When things stay hyper-local there’s actually a decent shot at getting a project approved,” Alexander said.

When things become a large-scale regional need, communities may lash out against the project, Alexander said.

On housing projects, Coghlan said that affordability is critical for projects that come before the IDA.

On millennials leaving Long Island, Meinberg said, “They’re coming back. They’re buying homes.”

Coghlan said that there are “stages of life” that millennials are going through. A person does not want to live in a 350-square-foot apartment for the rest of his or her life, Coghlan said.

With downtown revitalization being completed in villages like Farmingdale and Mineola, millennials are incentivized to come back, Meinberg said.

“They like the atmosphere of a small city,” Meinberg said. “Building little downtowns is going to help.”

Meinberg said that he and his accounting firm often try to keep up with trends and said that second-generation immigrants tend to be educated and very high-income people.

On what government’s role can be in helping the economic growth of Long Island, Meinberg said that the government can either continue to enforce and nurture old outdated policies or can innovate.

He warned that a potential threat to Long Island’s future is water quality and the effects of toxins put into the ground decades ago.

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