Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Drip, Drip, Drip

(Blogger's Note: The Lighthouse Blog has a wonderful piece on this as well that I suggest you check out)

Long Island, a place that was once the national standard-bearer for can-do thinking and progressive thought, now has a well-deserved reputation as a place where nothing can get done quickly. A few recent developments have once-again proven the point.

I'll Believe it When I See It

Recently, I received a note from the Town of Hempstead in the mail. It informed me of the recent court decision that upheld the rights of a developer seeking to build homes on the 17-acre site of the Bellmore Army Base, 13 years after a deal was originally struck. The letter advised us to be prepared for construction to begin, and all the noise and traffic that entails.

This is interesting news, but forgive me for saying that I'll believe they're building there when I see it for myself. We have seen too many false starts and broken promises already.

OSI Goes West (Young Man)

The Long Island economy suffered a major symbolic blow last week. OSI Pharmaceuticals, a leading biotechnology firm that has called Long Island home for 26 years, announced its decision to re-locate corporate operations to a site in the Westchester town of Ardsley. As a result, hundreds of educated Long Island workers will either be terminated or re-locate to Westchester, and the planned biotech corridor on Long Island, which has been sputtering for decades, is now truly dead.

Colin Goddard, OSI's CEO, took the interesting step of explaining his company's decision in a Newsday Op-Ed published July 9. Mr. Goddard explained that the decision to re-locate came as a result of Long Island's insular business culture and layers upon layers of local government, factors that conspire to make any approval process much longer than otherwise necessary. For example, OSI's decision to expand its facility on the campus of Farmingdale State University fizzled after a local politician who helped secure approval for the biotech park objected to the placement of a key facility. This byzantine government structure prevents any systematic effort to lure businesses to the area, and it stands in stark contrast to other communities that can provide a serious proposal with one phone call to the proper official.

Mr. Goddard is absolutely correct that this presents a systemic business risk. Companies moving at the current pace of business simply do not have the ability to wait for the different layers of government to come together and work out an agreement. It is not feasible to expect a globally-competitive company to willingly put itself at a disadvantage. Honestly, I'm starting a business myself, and hearing news like this makes me want to run away from Long Island as quickly as possible because it looks like the best thing for the business.

In the end, OSI joined three other biotech firms in an office park in Ardsley, raising hopes that the decades-old dream of a biotech corridor would happen there, rather than on Long Island. A "dynamic incentive package" - according to Mr. Goddard - from the Empire State Development Corporation sealed the deal and punched OSI's ticket out.

What's more, Mr. Goddard used the Lighthouse delays - the fault of both Nassau County and the Town of Hempstead - as a primary indicator that his business could not thrive in this environment. This is the Island that built the lunar module. We left a piece of ourselves on the moon....how different things have become.

Related to the Lighthouse

Issues such as the Bellmore Army Base, the West Hempstead Courtesy Hotel, and the decision of OSI Pharmaceuticals to re-locate have a major impact on the Lighthouse, even though many opponents would like to say otherwise. All of these issues speak to the current pace of decision-making on Long Island, and how it simply is not competitive when compared to the world at large.

OSI is leaving Long Island, taking hundreds of skilled jobs and the dreams of a biotech corridor with it. In the same vein, the Lighthouse is offering tens of thousands of badly-needed construction jobs, thousands of skilled jobs, thousands of unskilled jobs, and millions of dollars in needed state and federal infrastructure spending. Those opponents who would push the meme that the Lighthouse would only employ "fast food workers" are being beyond disingenuous. There will be less-skilled jobs, to be sure (by the way, people who would take these roles are unemployed, too!), but that does not mean the Lighthouse is some theme park that does not attract anything else. The sports technology center, the other office space, and hopefully other small business incubators can stimulate investment on Long Island, and it can help replace the industries that have fled for decades.

The Lighthouse can help reverse that Can't-Do defeatism that has infected Long Island's business climate and driven valuable investment elsewhere.

The Town of Hempstead has taken admirable steps to speed up the review process, but there is more to be done. In addition, we still have final scoping negotiations and a re-zoning hearing to look forward to, and the old attitudes can re-emerge at any time.

Bottom Line

Long Island, as I've said, has a well-deserved reputation as a quagmire that suffers from an insular culture and a seeming ignorance of the changes all around us. As the recent high-profile debate between business thinkers Malcolm Gladwell, Seth Godin, and Chris Anderson over the thesis of Mr. Anderson's new book Free suggests, the issue is not whether a change is good or not. The issue is that these changes are now facts of life we ignore at our own peril. As I like to say, the world is changing, and it will not wait for us to catch up. It will simply pass us by.

The second argument [related to Free] that makes no sense is, "how will this new business model support the world as we know it today?"

Who cares if it does? It is. It's happening. The world will change around it, because the world has no choice. I'm sorry if that's inconvenient, but it's true. - Seth Godin

With the Lighthouse, we can be change agents. We can send a strong, powerful message that Long Island truly is open for business and understands the adjustments necessary within a 21st-Century economy. The Lighthouse can truly be a catalyst to bring Long Island back, and it could lead to a day where Long Island is a magnet for jobs the way Westchester, Connecticut, and Northern New Jersey already are within the region. If we let this golden opportunity pass us by, we may not get another chance.

Stay tuned later this week for some guidelines on writing a public comment, aimed at Town of Hempstead residents, Long Islanders in general, and those who live elsewhere.

Please share your thoughts in comments. Petition. Email Me. Follow me on Twitter.


  1. Hey Nick are you familiar with the type of work that was once done in Wheeling W.Va? At one time in America almost every railroad ran its trains on tracks with a gauge set for their particular road. Thus every railroad needed to have its own engines specially built for use only on their railroad network. So if a train wanted to be travel from say New York to New Orleans it might have to be acomplished by riding along two or more railroad company networks with each of them having its own gauge (this is the distance between the rails)and so the passenger and freight cars would need to have their trucks (wheels) changed out to fit the next railroad lines gauge - Wheeling grew up around one such place. As long as the railroads maintained their seperate and unique gauges their was plenty of work for the wheel changers who would jack up the cars, roll out the old trucks and then roll in the replacements and then lower the cars down upon the new trucks. When the train had had all of its passenger and freight cars switched over to travel a;ong the new gauge then the train would proceed. Then came the advent of a new way of doing things by setting a standardized gauge for all major railroads and so the wheel changers of Wheeling W. Va. were forced to find a new job because the old business paradigm had been permenantly altered to form a much more profitable business model. Tempus fugit. The sooner the politicians of both major parties and their cohorts among the minor parties are able to learn the lesson of the wheel changers the better for the future of our beloved Island because time truly does march on and in doing so it consigns the past into the annals of history. Hopefully that will not be the fate of LI.

  2. Oliver - wonderful comment, sir. I didn't know that's where it was done, but I knew a little bit about what they used to have to do to fit trains on different gauges.

    It's like that movie Other People's Money, where Danny DeVito plays a vicious corporate raider. His ethics are, overall, questionable, but he had one good point. 110 years ago, there was probably a company that built the best buggy-whip the world had ever seen. However, if it didn't adapt to the changing times (read: the automobile), that company died, and rightfully so.

    The rules have changed, so we can't keep playing the same old game.