Regaining Long Island’s Regional Pride

Grumman F11F-1 F9F-8 and F9F-8T production line Calverton

Many people define who they are by their work. What they produce, what they contribute, what they’re known for.

While concerns about cost of living, transit hubs and walkable downtowns are real, the primary reason so many local jobs go unfilled, so many brains drained, is because Long Island has for too long clung to its former might as a defense capital or tried to fill its  loss with a single thing.

Simple fact: Pride in our region is what drew and kept talent here. If we recapture that, we’ll fuel the next generation of success.

There are two truths we need to embrace to regain our regional pride. First, that we were never just a one-industry place. Second, that the pluck and innovation and resilience that built the Hellcat and the Lunar Module are still here today.

In 1927, Robert Moses, New York’s master builder, spoke to a pair of Long Island business associations, delivering pretty much the same sermon: Long Island, he said, was to be a recreational retreat for city dwellers and “not a commercial community.”

Leroy Grumman, of course, didn’t get the word. His firm, founded just two years after Moses’ speeches, would become one of the nation’s premier defense manufacturers, sustaining thousands of Long Island families and serving as a source of national pride.

But when the company was acquired and the jobs left, faith in Long Island went with them. The idea that there were no jobs or industry on Long Island got passed from dining room to dining room and from generation to generation. People eventually began to assume you needed to look elsewhere for a career. And they have.

But our industry is different, not dead. Where one company once employed 20,000, today 3,000 smaller manufacturers have jobs for more than 70,000. Long Island manufacturers, in fact, posted 8,600 jobs last year alone.

We still make parts for NASA and the Department of Defense, but we also make most of the drugs in your medicine cabinet, parts for the worlds’ largest telescope, medical devices and cures. We are players in the global marketplace.

Long Island’s industries with projected job growth and career opportunities include healthcare, hospitality and tourism, manufacturing and information technology. Over the past 12 months they collectively posted 40,000 positions with education requirements varying from high school diploma to doctorate. Many of these jobs go unfilled, in large part because people don’t realize they exist.

With a chemistry degree you could be making wine on the East End, overseeing quality engineering in a pharmaceutical manufacturing company or developing DNA for supply chain security and earning between $70,000 and $140,000 a year.

If you like music, math and technology you could be designing the music industry’s premier guitar strings. If you like physics, design and 3-D printing you could be making parts for the most sophisticated scientific equipment for the world’s largest telescope.

In our co-working spaces Long Island entrepreneurs are making their first million – and some, their fifth – incubating and operating businesses that share only the geography with Long Island’s fabled past.

But they are very much the future, the next big thing that is not one thing, but many.

Join me here each month as we explore, and celebrate, their stories.