Bellone: Innovation imperative for Suffolk

Steve Bellone
Long Island Business News Op-Ed
Long Island Business News

At kitchen tables around Suffolk County, families are asking, “How do we afford to stay here?”

Young workers living in their parents’ basements, retirees paying $10,000 a year in property taxes and business owners being lured by other states are all asking themselves the same thing.

Slow decline does not have to be the future of Suffolk. We can attract jobs, provide opportunity and expand our tax base to give relief for middle-class families. And we can do it by attracting good, new high-tech jobs.

As your next county executive, I will work to create the nation’s next Research Triangle right here in Suffolk County.

Politicians everywhere talk about creating high-tech research jobs, but they don’t have what we have right here – the brightest minds and major research assets. Suffolk can already point to Stony Brook University, Brookhaven National Laboratory and Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory – where DNA was first discovered.

We need a comprehensive economic development strategy centered on a bold innovation agenda that will enable us to compete for new tech jobs. This strategy starts first with identifying the sectors of our economy that we are well-positioned to attract based on the unique assets of our region. Some, like Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko, have recognized this opportunity, and I applaud his groundbreaking Accelerate Long Island initiative. It is an important first step in bringing our institutions together to commercialize scientific research, build new research and create jobs.

Second, we cannot attract and retain businesses if we do not have low-cost and accessible places to put them. Working with towns, we can identify publicly owned parcels that are currently off tax rolls to designate as Innovation Zones, just like North Carolina’s Research Triangle. These new zones will have the lowest business tax rates Long Island has ever seen, and working with Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s new economic development program, we can make sure Suffolk’s Innovation Zones can compete with incentives offered anywhere in America.

Third, startups need access to capital. As supervisor, I have directed Babylon’s Industrial Development Agency to slash red tape and create jobs by offering the most aggressive incentives in the region. Now Suffolk’s IDA needs to get more aggressive on economic development. IDAs throughout our county are sitting on cash while startups cannot get loans. I will create a pool of $500,000 from money languishing in these funds to create a new Suffolk Innovation and Research Fund. A committee of investment professionals – not politicians – will focus on growing Suffolk County technology companies that can be nurtured in our new Innovation Zones.

Our economic development strategy also needs to focus on job training and making sure that opportunity exists in every community in our county. We need to align our county’s job training programs with the industries we are incentivizing so that in real time we are training people for the jobs that are being created.

Finally, we have to recognize that the biggest impediment to economic development on Long Island is government. I will reform county government starting with the agencies that are directly connected to economic development like the health department. These agencies must be more efficient and business-friendly. I will partner with towns and villages by offering funding for great planning and infrastructure dollars to help implement great plans. If community planning produces projects that help address the major challenges we face as a region, the county should be there to help make them happen. I also will work with all taxing jurisdictions to figure out how they can work together to continue delivering quality services at the lowest possible cost to residents and businesses.

Creating the next Research Triangle here in Suffolk County will not happen overnight, but with a comprehensive strategy, the right investments and a commitment to making government work we can make Suffolk an economic powerhouse that can compete with any region in the country.

Bellone is Babylon supervisor and the Democratic candidate for Suffolk County executive.