As the newly named CEO of the Long Island Association, Matthew Cohen is at the helm of the key business organization for the region. He talked with us about his new role, priorities and views on the group’s place in the Long Island business landscape during unusual times.
You’ve been with the LIA for a long time. How does it feel, and how is it different, to be leading the group? The difference between being the vice president and becoming the president and CEO is surreal, but exciting. I have a lot of experience with the organization, having been the vice president for 10 years. I have a lot of experience with the business community, our members and board of directors. This is a new role, but something I don’t need on-the-job training for. I understand the issues confronting the region. I understand things we could be doing to help the business community and spur economic growth.
What do you see as the biggest business issues, or issues, confronting the region other than the pandemic? I think the most existential issue facing Long Island is how to keep our region more affordable for young families and professionals. It’s incumbent upon the Long Island Association and other stakeholders to create the type of environment so that a young person can be educated here, go to college here and get a good paying job here, or go away to college and afford living here. We need more affordable housing, more affordable apartments, and more affordable homeownership opportunities. The way young families can afford that is with good, paying jobs.
How can the LIA help with that? The LIA should be the leading voice in advocating federal, state, and local lawmakers for more investment in the region’s infrastructure, our transportation, downtowns, housing, childcare. The LIA should be leading the region in trying to support the needs of the business community, particularly the small-business community. The small-business community is resilient, but it’s still recovering from Covid. They went through hell and back again. Business owners, employees, families. Small businesses are 90 percent of the businesses on Long Island. We have to make sure we’re there for them.
Do you have a particular approach or style to leading? Very down to earth. I respect people and treat people with respect. I want people to know that I care about these issues. It’s personal to me. I have a young family, a 10-year-old son. What happens in the future of this region is what happens in the future of my son’s life. It’s important to me.
How is the LIA as an organization operating differently because of Covid, and is it returning to in-person events? We are adapting like other businesses are adapting. We were planning on returning to in-person events in the fall. The health and safety conditions will dictate that. As of now, we’re looking at bringing back in-person meetings.
How has Covid impacted the economy? Covid battered the Long Island economy, but we’re navigating together and recovering, which is why the delta and the potential lambda variant are so concerning. We should be encouraging all people to get vaccinated and follow health and safety guidelines so we can keep our economy growing.
What if any priorities do you have in terms of things that you would like to see done? Making Long Island more affordable for young families and professionals; supporting the small-business community; and diversity, equity and inclusion. Making the case that it’s good for their bottom line to have a more diverse C-suite of executives, corporate, and nonprofit boards. That will spur economic growth. As Long Island demographics keep changing, our workforce and our C-suite executives should reflect those demographics.
How do you take diversity as a value and translate that into action? Leading by example. Our own board of directors has become increasingly diverse [during former LIA President and CEO] Kevin (Law)’s tenure. My intention is to continue diversifying. I want to do more events, more advocacy, centered around promoting diversity, equity and inclusion. And I want to reach out more to those business communities.
Do you work with other organizations? We work with all the other business organizations, the other chambers of commerce. The Long Island African American Chamber of Commerce President, Phil Andrews, is on our board. Louis Vasquez, president of the Long Island Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is on our board.
Is it more difficult to work together in the age of Covid? We haven’t been able to get together a lot in the last year and a half. I would say as a result of Covid, we work together more closely to help the business community navigate the pandemic. We did town halls, webinars, information, resources, and advocacy. We pushed hard for federal and state funding and support.
What’s your view of the role of social media in terms of the LIA? The LIA is going to use social media and new media in an increasing fashion to better communicate with our members, the broader business community, and the entire region. We’re starting to do more in terms of increasing our social activity on social media and new media. We’re going to develop a new podcast series.
Have companies reached out to the LIA during the pandemic? We responded to hundreds and hundreds of inquiries from businesses that contacted us directly. We tried to guide them to the appropriate contacts at the Small Business Administration or Empire State Development. We took a lot of their concerns to state and federal decision makers.
And now? We hope the worst of Covid is over, but new concerns are lurking. We‘ll remain a resource for businesses that need more support. The small-business community is still trying to recover.