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Long Island’s Generic, Over-the-counter Pill Business Booms

over-the-counter
Far from pausing during the pandemic, Long Island’s pill-making industry has been going into overdrive. (Getty Images)

Long Island may not be home to big pharma brands like Johnson & Johnson, Pfizer or Sanofi, but when it comes to generic drugs, over-the-counter medications, and nutritional supplements, the region is a massive pill manufacturing center – and it’s getting bigger.

Far from pausing during the pandemic, Long Island’s pill-making industry has been going into overdrive, adding manufacturing to feed the nation’s insatiable appetite for medications and supplements. And that means hiring, investing in technology, and building in a kind of pill boom.

Generics, drugs made when original products go off patent, are at the core of the growth, typically providing cheaper options under manufacturer brand names, store brands, or for other companies.

Amneal Pharmaceuticals, a New Jersey-based company specializing in generic drugs with large Long Island operations, supplies more than 10 billion generic doses to customers annually. It also produces jobs, employing about 900 people in Brookhaven, Hauppauge and Yaphank. 

ScieGen Pharmaceuticals, a generic drug maker founded in 2009, operates 90,000 square feet of manufacturing and warehouse space at its Hauppauge headquarters. The company says it can make up to 10 billion tablets and capsule units a year.

ScieGen on its website says construction is under way on a new facility that will include an additional 150,000 square feet of manufacturing and warehouse space, “allowing us to increase production.” 

Meanwhile, Central Islip-based generic pharmaceutical company Ascent Pharmaceuticals operates 309,000 square feet of manufacturing and laboratory space on Long Island. That’s in addition to about 15,000 square feet of laboratory space in India.

Hauppauge-based Contract Pharmacal, which says it has a 17 billion pill capacity, develops about 100 new products and makes more than 600 products annually. 

And Deer Park-based Allegiant Health, spun off by A&Z Pharmaceuticals, makes private label over-the-counter pharmaceuticals and nutritional supplements, as well as products under its own Health A2Z brand. It now has a portfolio of more than 100 over-the-counter pharmaceuticals and supplements. 

Sounds like a lot? Enough to make the name of the TV show Billions seem like a rounding error? All of this adds up to a big little pill industry and a kind of hub of generic manufacturing, where other companies typically develop drugs then made on Long Island, fueling manufacturing in Suffolk County.

“In terms of what we do on Long Island, we manufacture and distribute generics,” Anthony DiMeo, an Amneal spokesperson, told the Long Island Press. “Generics is a critical industry in U.S. healthcare. It represents the vast majority of total prescriptions, 90%.”

Bridgewater, N.J.-based Amneal, DiMeo said, has been “focused on affordable, essential medicines,” since the company’s founding in 2002. Amneal acquired a Brookhaven site in 2008 and in 2017 completed a major expansion, which DiMeo said made it the largest pharmaceutical facility in New York State at approximately 600,000 square feet. He said Amneal’s generics business has been growing by 2%-3% a year, driven by new products.

Generics, drugs made when original products go off patent, are at the core of the growth. (Getty Images)

While Amneal makes many medications under its own brands, Contract Pharmacal specializes in making and packaging pharmaceuticals and dietary supplements for other companies. It employs more than 1,300, works for 65 customers worldwide and has annual bottling capacity of 300 million and annual solid-dose capacity of 20 billion.

“Fifty years ago, John Wolf, our cofounder, had a vision to help companies bring quality pharmaceutical-grade products to consumers,” Chief Operating Officer Jeff Reingold said as the company celebrates its 50th anniversary. “People assume quality, but you have to prove quality.”

Contract Pharmacal had grown its work force from 630 in 2012 to twice that number by 2019, according to a statement by Empire State Development and the New York Power Authority. 

“Contract Pharmacal has deep roots on Long Island and thanks to support from New York State this innovative company has seen significant job growth in recent years,” then-Lt. Gov. Kathy Hochul, who toured their facility, said in 2019. “Their continued expansion is part of our ongoing strategy to create good-paying jobs, invest in our workforce, and ensure a brighter economic future for Long Island and across the state.”

Contract Pharmacal President Mark Wolf at the time said $8 million in tax incentives tied to his company’s investment and creation of jobs helped the business “expand and remain competitive in this highly specialized industry.”

In addition to manufacturing, the industry’s expansion is leading to high-tech warehousing for billions of pills made in the United States, even if most manufacturing has moved offshore.

“Our automated warehouse has the proper segregation to store materials of different environmental conditions to meet their requirements,” ScieGen says on its website. 

Many of the companies were created by entrepreneurs of Indian heritage, such as Amneal, founded in 2002 by brothers Chirag and Chintu Patel, whose father, Kanu Patel, worked as a pharmaceutical regulatory inspector in India.

SciGen CEO Pailla Malla Reddy, an Indian American businessman, in 1995 founded Bactolac Pharmaceutical and in 2009 launched ScieGen Pharmaceuticals. Sudhakar Vidiyala is CEO of Ascent Pharmaceuticals.

Companies do a lot of research as well as manufacturing on Long Island. Amneal in Brookhaven operates an R&D site not far from an 84,000-square-foot warehouse in Yaphank. 

Many pharmaceutical companies have been expanding on Long Island to meet growing demand, often driven by generics that prove an Rx for growth.

“Yes, we have been hiring on Long Island,” DiMeo said. “If you look at our LinkedIn page you’ll see we’ve had a number of job fairs this year.”

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Memorial Sloan Kettering Doctor Talks Cancer Care on Long Island

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Dr. Diane Reidy-Lagunes, of Memorial Sloan Kettering Regional Care Network

As the medical oncologist and associate deputy physician-in-chief of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Regional Care Network, Dr. Diane Reidy-Lagunes plays a key role in cancer care on Long Island. We talked with her about cancer, cures, Covid, the pandemic, and efforts to serve Long Islanders closer to home.

Are you from Long Island?

I am from Long Island. I was born and raised in Nesconset. I’m proud to work at MSK and have the opportunity to be back on Long Island and oversee the regional care network.

What is the regional care network and what is it on Long Island?

Many years ago, MSK decided we needed to bring our care closer to where our patients live and work. We developed regional care network sites. There are three on Long Island — Hauppauge, Uniondale, and Commack — three in New Jersey, and one in Westchester. The hope and expectation is we can provide care to our patients closer to home, to make it more convenient and eliminate the financial toxicity of having to take off a lot of time from work, providing childcare, and driving to the city. Over the years, we’ve developed new sites and tried to attend to patients’ needs by being where they are. We go to them, as opposed to assuming they will go to us.

What can you do at regional sites and when do patients need to go to Manhattan?

At our regional sites, patients can get chemotherapy and radiation therapy as well as blood labs and things they need. There are pharmacies. The only thing not available is surgery. The surgeons are there, but for the operative care itself, that’s pretty much still in Manhattan. In Commack, we have an interventional radiology suite. That means certain procedures that interventional radiologists do can be done on Long Island.

How big is your Long Island regional presence and is it changing?

Now we have 20% of our patient population, all the patients we care for, on Long Island. It’s a big number. But any patient can get their chemotherapy and radiation anywhere.

How has cancer care changed since the pandemic?

The world changed since the pandemic. Nowhere are we more aware of that than at a cancer center. Our patients tend to be older and have cancer. They’re the highest-risk population for getting severe symptoms from Covid if, God forbid, they are exposed. We have gone above and beyond to get proper protocols in place, to make it the safest place to go and be. The protocols of keeping our patients safe are so tight. We’ve learned what keeps our patients and employees safe.

Can you describe some protocols?

It’s universal masking for everyone. If anyone even has a sniffle, they’re immediately tested. We have labs on site, so we can get responses quickly. Anyone who goes into an operating room is tested beforehand. All our employees are required to be vaccinated.

How are you using telemedicine?

That’s critically helpful for our patients, particularly on Long Island, who live a distance from the city. We can care for many patients through telehealth in the comfort of their own home. There are still safety issues in terms of visitor policies. Having telehealth allows us to invite any family members who want to attend a meeting. They can come on the video, even if they’re at work.

Did people delay care due to the pandemic and are you seeing a surge in demand for care?

I think early on, there were delays, in March of last year and most of the spring. Thankfully, we think that delay is no longer the case. We want to encourage patients to go back to screening and getting cancer care. 

What new tech/treatments are there or on the horizon?

Tremendous strides have been made, such as immunotherapy, medications that turn on your immune system to attack the cancer. It’s a drug given intravenously that turns on your immune system, particularly your T-cells, white cells fighting off the cancer. We have targeted treatments that allow us to treat patients based on the genetic dispositions of the cancer. Based on mutations in the cancer, we have new therapies targeting that.

What can people do to reduce their risk of getting cancer?

First and foremost, make sure you do the screening tests that save lives and prevent cancer. Colonoscopy for patients 45 and older. Mammograms and early detection are important. Going to see the dermatologist, making sure there’s no evidence of skin cancer or melanoma. And maintain a healthy lifestyle. Smoking is addictive, but going through smoking cessation programs is important. And eating. We know a lot of cancers today are associated with obesity.

Is MSK expanding, adding services or otherwise growing on Long Island?

Uniondale is a brand-new facility. We expanded our Commack facility in 2019 to be larger and we have the potential to expand Uniondale to be larger. I don’t think we plan on having another building. We’re continuing to see an increased number of patients. We’re bringing on doctors who have unique specialties that allow patients to get specialized care locally.

How crucial is it to fund and fight cancer – even as Covid-19 becomes such a key concern?

The pandemic has brought so much tragedy, but cancer continues to do the same. We have to keep to our mission, making sure we keep our eyes on the ball and keep going with research that we desperately need to do.

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As Covid Restrictions Lessen, LI Economy Begins to Rebound

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Nassau and Suffolk added more than 100,000 jobs from June 2020 to June 2021. (Getty Images)

When the pandemic hit in March 2020, the Long Island real estate market, along with many industries, came to a screeching halt. Brokers in New York could no longer show properties — but those in Connecticut could.

“We had people who wanted to buy homes and we weren’t allowed to have in-person showings,” said Deirdre O’Connell, CEO of Daniel Gale Sotheby’s International Realty. “We pivoted to virtual showings.”

Realtors sold many houses sight unseen as demand soared, and when they were allowed to do in-person showings again in late June 2020, business boomed.

“The floodgates opened. Our agents ran for 12 months straight,” O’Connell said. “There was so much business to be done.”

A year later, the company sees not a recession but a banner year in its rearview mirror, along with strong demand as the economy recovers.

“2020 was the most successful year we’ve ever had,” O’Connell said. “And this has been the most successful first half of the year we’ve ever had.”

The past year has been topsy-turvy, with some industries on a roll and many such as restaurants struggling. But as the economy reopens, rising job numbers and lower unemployment show a region making a comeback across many industries. 

Restrictions have loosened although variants remain, but the economy is recovering, as rising cost of living hits residents and companies sort out whether and how to blend remote and in-person work.

“I think it’s a mixed bag,” said Jeffrey Reynolds, CEO of Family and Children’s Association, a large nonprofit health and human services organization. “Those who were doing OK are doing slightly better. Those who were struggling are struggling more than in the past.”

Unemployment in both Nassau and Suffolk rose to 12.9 percent in June 2020, falling to 5 percent by this June, well below the 6.1 percent national average.

Nassau and Suffolk added more than 100,000 jobs from June 2020 to June 2021 in what Bruce Bergman, a regional economist with the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), called “the largest over-the-year gain recorded for any June since the start of the series in 1990.” 

Nassau and Suffolk from June 2019 to June 2020, however, lost 228,200 jobs. Shital Patel, a regional economist with the New York State Department of Labor, said the region remains at 119,500, or 10.2 percent, below pre-pandemic levels of June 2019.

“Long Island has largely kept pace with the greater New York area in terms of overall job growth during this recovery period,” Patel said. “As economic activity resumed, Long Island’s private sector regained a large portion of jobs lost.” 

While many economic indicators paint a positive picture, others point to an ongoing emotional toll amid variants that threaten a recovery.

“The anxiety, depression, and drug use that existed pre-pandemic has been multiplied exponentially,” Reynolds said. “Drug and alcohol use has increased.”

Nassau and Suffolk’s 104,600 job gain translates into 9.1 percent growth, edging ahead of 8.9 percent in the New York-Newark-Jersey City metropolitan area. Patel said “leisure and hospitality added the bulk of the jobs,” more than 30,000, for 37.5 percent growth, including 23,900 in accommodations and food services.

“A lot of high-wage jobs tend to be in the five boroughs, people who work somewhere else to get higher salaries,” Reynolds said. “Many jobs on Long Island are service-oriented jobs like restaurant staff or not-for-profits or construction.”

Retail added 17,200 jobs and healthcare and social assistance added 14,700 jobs. The arts, entertainment and recreation; transportation and warehousing; and professional and technical services sectors all added at least 5,000 jobs each.

Compensation has not been keeping pace with inflation, increasing pressure. New York State Department of Labor Chief Regional Economist Martin Kohli said wages and salaries in the New York metropolitan area rose 2.3 percent over the year, while consumer prices rose 4.1 percent. Wages and salaries rose 3.5 percent nationwide, also outpacing Long Island. 

The BLS’ Bergman said, “The numbers are affected by shifts in industry and occupational employment as have occurred over the past year.”

Average weekly wages for the fourth quarter of 2020 in Nassau were $1,456 and $1,454 in Suffolk, well above the U.S. average of $1,339. Fast food and counter workers got $14.03 per hour in the New York metropolitan area, compared to $11.80 nationwide, while accountants got $50.83 compared to $39.26 nationwide, according to BLS data.

Working remotely became a bigger part of the norm and technology sometimes increased convenience and lowered costs. Telehealth lets services be provided more easily and, often, cheaply.

“That makes all the difference in the world, particularly for low-income families who may have to take three buses to get to treatment,” Reynolds said.

More government funding gives nonprofits resources to serve a growing need, he added. “There’s more awareness about mental health issues,” Reynolds said. “No matter how well adjusted you were before Covid, the average person got a taste of what some people struggle with on a daily basis.”

Affluent residents are acquiring summer homes that are sometimes being used far beyond the summer. “They’re still buying. Everybody you can imagine. People in rentals. First-time home buyers,” O’Connell said, noting high-end Gold Coast market estates have “not had a market like this in 10 years.”

She said virtual tours and 3D photography will remain as buyers expect technology to offer tours before they go in person.

“Before they get in their car, they’re going to want to experience houses in different ways,” O’Connell said. “They’re going to want real video.”

The fall likely will bring a shift from outdoors back indoors, which Reynolds said likely will bring more pressure related to the pandemic.

“I would expect September is going to be really challenging,” he said. “The uncertainty of where Covid is going has added a lot of stress.”

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New LIA CEO Cohen on Regional Economic Outlook

Matthew Cohen.

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.

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SupplyHouse.com Mixes Work and Pleasure

supplyhouse.com

SupplyHouse.com, an industrial supply company, offers a “huge selection” of more than 180,000 products in more than 700,000 square feet of warehouse space, friendly customer service, and helpful resources such as videos and manuals. That may help keep the e-commerce company’s customers happy, but the company clearly works hard to keep its employees happy as well.

SupplyHouse.com’s secret sauce, if you can call it that, may be a company culture that serves employees as well as clients. The Melville-based business, which touts “Real people. Real service,” has long been employee focused and friendly, far before the pandemic made companies pay more attention to serving employees as well as clients. The supplier of plumbing, heating, HVAC and electrical products is known for being outsized when it comes to catering to employees.

CEO Josh Meyerowitz said a focus on his team “has helped to create a people-focused organization which has led to sustained growth and a strong working environment.” 

In addition to things such as a casual dress code; dental and vision coverage; a free, 100 percent employer-sponsored medical coverage option; and matching up to 4 percent for 401(k) plans, SupplyHouse.com boasts of an almost Cheers-like culture where “everyone knows everyone.”  

More than 25 explanations of reasons employees love the company included culture, people, care, and a team approach. In addition to its Long Island headquarters, SupplyHouse.com has a satellite office and distribution center in Reno, Nev., as well as distribution centers in Cranbury, N.J., Columbus, Ohio, and Farmers Branch, Texas.

One employee cited a “great work environment,” others singled out friendly people and events, while another said, “The culture is wonderful.”  

“I feel supported by my peers and managers and that I could ask any question without being judged,” one employee said, while another added, “I really enjoy the people I work with and the culture of the company.”  

Some tech companies developed business models focusing on technology, while not seeming to value workers as much. SupplyHouse.com, led by Meyerowitz, a graduate of NYU’s Stern School of Business, emphasizes being focused on people as well as product as an enlightened employer and e-commerce business. 

“Many of our traditions, though slightly altered, remained in effect throughout the pandemic, including our Halloween costume contest, gift swap, health and wellness month, and core values weeks,” Julie Collins, a human resources manager, said. “We have always placed a strong emphasis on team building and working remotely was not going to make this any less of a priority.” 

Although the pandemic hit all companies, SupplyHouse.com developed many employee-centric programs long before, seeking to make work a more fun place. Traditions include bagels and hot breakfasts on Wednesdays, pizza on Fridays, along with a “loaded kitchen” every day.  

The company also has been pet- as well as people-friendly. “Dogs are a common sight around here,” the company says on its website. “We love our four-legged team members.”  

SupplyHouse.com has hosted meetings or events complete with shooting basketballs, hitting golf balls, and other ways to have a good time. The company’s display of costumes on Halloween amounts to a miniparade.  

The business, which offers a “collaborative and fun atmosphere,” clearly recognizes its employees as a community and has sought to engage with the community and causes.  

“From cleaning up the grounds of treatment facilities to hosting events for charities and our mentorship program in our local school district, helping others is a substantial part of our journey,” its website states..

The company took part in the Long Island Cares annual School Supply Drive, collecting backpacks, notebooks, planners, crayons and more, and has hosted annual winter wonderlands for children, featuring games, prizes and other activities. 

The company also seeks to raise awareness of breast and prostate cancer in October, with employees dressing in pink, and the entire company annually volunteers at Madonna Heights, a Queens-based program designed to help vulnerable young girls and families.  

“Volunteers paint, garden and clean throughout the entire campus,” seeking to do good and do well, according to SupplyHouse.com’s website. “We are a team of passionate, creative problem solvers,” an employee on its website is quoted as saying. “Whether we are collaborating on our next project or on the softball field, at the end of the day, we are all working towards being our best selves.”

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St. Joseph’s College President Talks New Degrees, In-person Education, And More

st. joseph's college
Donald Boomgarden.

As president of St. Joseph’s College, Donald Boomgarden, Ph.D., leads a school with campuses in Patchogue and Brooklyn as well as online. He talked with us about leadership, launching new degrees, thriving nursing and education programs, construction, and getting back to in-person education.

What’s the role of a college president today and has it changed dramatically?

I think it’s got to be one of the most challenging periods in history for all of us. I don’t think the role of the president has changed all that much, but the complexity of the job has changed. The role of the president to be the leader of the community and provide insights and make decisions and be thinking of the good of the institution and the community around it is the same.

How did you and the institution deal with and adapt to the pandemic?

We took a practical approach. St. Joseph’s College is primarily nonresidential. That gave us a lot of flexibility. We have an advanced online program. We had a large staff and faculty familiar with remote learning. So we shifted quickly and successfully to remote learning. We were able to not only maintain, but increase, our enrollments. The expertise in that area allowed St. Joseph’s to do quite well.

How do you focus on both the Brooklyn and Long Island campuses?

I spend about three days a week on Long Island and about three days a week in Brooklyn. I travel back and forth every week. That allows me to stay on top of everything on each campus. 

What differentiates the campuses in terms of studies?

We try to offer the same programs on each campus. In Patchogue, one of the leading areas for St. Joseph’s is education. There are thousands of St. Joseph-educated teachers in the public and private schools on Long Island. That’s a major impact the college has had for a long time. 

Which programs are big and growing in addition to education?

We’ve seen an explosion of interest in nursing. That continues to be so popular. Nursing has a seriously complex accreditation process. You’re only allowed to have X number of majors. We easily meet our numbers in nurses every year.

What other areas are particularly popular?

We’ve seen great growth in education, which runs contrary to what’s happening in most of the country. Majors like criminal justice and majors in the liberal arts and in the sciences, biology and chemistry.

What are some of the specialties for your online “campus?”

That continues to be an area of great growth. We offer 27 different programs fully online. A number of them are graduate. We have accounting, business management, healthcare administration, education. We’ve seen almost double- digit growth in online programs.

Can you update us on the new student center?

It’s a $17 million structure. It will be open by spring of 2023, 32,000 square feet, in Patchogue. It will have classrooms and offices as well as spaces for students, including dining areas and gathering areas for student life, a chapel, and an art gallery. It will be a beautiful building. 

What new degrees are in the works?

We have a number of new degrees coming. Probably the most significant is the master’s of social work. I think that will be really important after we get through this pandemic. This summer, we just started a teaching of English as a second language master’s program. There are some other things we’re doing as well, including a bachelor’s of science in computer science education. It trains people to be teachers of computer science in the schools. That fits beautifully into our education program.

How do people react when you introduce yourself as a college president?

I never do. I still teach. My first year, I was teaching a class. The chair of the education department said, “Don, one of my students is in your class.” I said, “How do they like it?” She said, ‘He thinks you’re really funny. He said, ‘My teacher’s so funny. He keeps saying he’s the president!’”

How do you introduce yourself?

Sometime, people say, “Where do you work?” I say, “I work at St. Joseph’s.” Then they tell me about St. Joseph’s. They will say wonderful things about the school. When I went to get my inoculation, I went to a firehouse in Suffolk County. The nurse checking me in recognized me. She was a graduate of St. Joseph’s. Several people working there were from St. Joseph’s.

How does your music background fit into your academic role?

I think there are a lot of connections. I was trained as a classical pianist and musicologist and music historian. What you learn in music is discipline. You learn to sit in a chair for many hours and work on a very small thing to make it perfect. That’s an important skill. I can apply the same rigor to an administrative problem.

Do you still perform?

I give a recital every year. Last year right before the pandemic, I gave a recital of the piano works of Franz Liszt. This year, unless the pandemic stops us, I’m working on a recital program of the works of Gershwin. I try to play every year. I love to play. But it’s a great way to connect with faculty and students. It gives you a chance for them to see you as a person, not just a president.

What are the plans for in-person education?

We’re going to go back to in-person in the fall. God willing, that’s our plan. We have everything set up to do that. Our plan is to be fully back to the pre-pandemic approach on both campuses in the fall.

Are people excited or a little apprehensive, or both, about the fall?

I know people have a mixture of excitement and anxiety. I think the regular things we have planned will seem special after what we went through. Faculty meetings, informal gatherings when students come back for orientation. When classes begin, those will all have a special significance after what we’ve been through.

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Molloy College President James Lentini Talks Maintaining School’s Success in Pandemic

molloy college
James Lentini

James Lentini took over as president of Molloy College, in Rockville Centre, in June 2020 soon after Covid-19 hit. After serving as senior vice president for academic affairs and provost at Oakland University from 2013-2020, he steered Molloy through the pandemic. An experienced educator and education administrator as well as a composer and guitarist, he talked with us about leading through the past year, the present and the future.

What was your best preparation for the job at Molloy?

I was a provost before that, so I had a lot of leadership responsibility. As president, you’re the spokesman and leader of the institution. I had good preparation for this.

How’s enrollment been through the pandemic and how is it now?

Enrollment is roughly 4,800. We have an increase in freshmen students. It’s still some weeks to go until September. Our enrollment’s holding pretty good and steady. We have had a slight decrease during Covid. So did almost everyone else. Looks like this year we’re heading back to normal.

Can you tell me about Molloy’s financial aid?

Practically every one of our students gets some financial aid. We offer generous financial aid packages to students. Molloy, I think, is one of the lowest-priced private institutions on Long Island. 

How was Molloy able to shift online during the pandemic?

We really ramped up training for faculty members who jumped with both feet into preparing their online courses where they hadn’t done them before in some courses.

Have you run exclusively or primarily online?

In the past year, we ran mostly online, successfully getting students through programs, getting to a commencement with an in-person element that everybody loved.

What program areas are growing and why?

Nursing has always been a growing area at Molloy, only constrained by our physical space. The areas in healthcare are growing. We’ll be expanding our healthcare programs in the future.

Have you changed your nursing program amid the pandemic?

Nursing is such a great program at Molloy. Because of limitations at hospitals over the past year, we built new simulation labs to allow students to work in the simulation environment.

Can you tell me a little bit about a Molloy program in the arts?

One of our outstanding programs is a program called the Cap 21 musical theater program. We have a space in Manhattan where students rehearse. They travel between Molloy’s campus in Rockville Centre and lower Manhattan. They’re some of the top talents in the country. They’re actors, dancers, singers. 

What new graduate degrees have launched or are on their way?

We have an advanced certificate in nursing education. Our entertainment and sports management programs are pretty recent. The newest things in our curriculum are around our development of badges and certificates for the adult learner.

Can you tell me about those programs?

These tend to be stackable certificates. Let’s say you get a certificate in business analytics. You get credits and can then take a course in management. They can become a degree program and become a master’s degree. Some people may not need the degree. They get training in data analytics. Cybersecurity is a growing area. We’re looking at developing a certificate area in cybersecurity.

Can you describe the way you used cars as an element in commencement when a conventional ceremony wasn’t possible?

We had 400 cars at a time in a parking lot, spaced out. They could have as many people as they wanted in a car. We took the students graduating from cars into the Madison Theatre [on campus] and greeted them.

Did you use video as a component?

We had 10 big screens out there. Parents and families were watching students cross the stage on big screens. I’d go out to the parking lot. Some said it was better than normal,  not in a crowded arena.

How did you handle the commencement speech? 

I gave the commencement speech live.

In addition to being an academic and administrator, you’re a composer and guitarist. What, if anything, do composing and performing music have in common with leading a higher education institution?

Having a common goal. It might be that in music, we want this piece to be interpreted a certain way. I need everyone to unify around that vision. Having to do that is useful at a school when it comes to organizing a team around you.

These have been tough times in a lot of ways; a positive but realistic approach probably mattered a lot. Would you say you’re an optimistic person?

I’m an optimist. You have to be that way and I am that way. It’s easy to be an optimist when you talk to students. They managed so well. I’m frequently with student leadership. They couldn’t have been more upbeat and positive.

With health as a concern, have you made infrastructure improvements related to the pandemic?

We upgraded our air purification systems across campus. That made it safer for the air quality during Covid and lessened the spreading of any germs. The air purification system was a major upgrade. The other things are mostly renovations and upgrades.

Are you heading back to an in-person model?

We are going to be in person. We will have some online courses, not much different than before the pandemic. We know students are excited about coming back to campus.

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Adelphi University President Dr. Christine Riordan Talks Pandemic Adjustments

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Dr. Christine M. Riordan, president of Adelphi University, at the college’s Garden City campus.

Adelphi University President Dr. Christine Riordan, the school’s 10th president, took office in July 2015. She talked with the Long Island Press about the past six years, the pandemic and the future.

What are you proudest of so far, beyond how Adelphi handled the pandemic?

We launched more than 30 academic degree programs over the last five years. We have career outcome placement rates of 94 percent for our undergraduate program and 90 percent for graduate program. We outpaced the national market in terms of starting salaries our students are earning. Our student satisfaction has gone up. We emphasize experiential learning so students get critical experience in their fields.

Have you opened any new buildings and done any major renovations?

We’ve done extensive renovations across the campus, including new science labs as well as updated classrooms. We did a $50 million renovation of our 50-year-old university center. It’s now about 110,000 square feet and a state-of-the-art hub of our university. We finished it during the pandemic, which is remarkable. We completed a $76 million renovation of our Nexus Building, the home to our College of Nursing and Public Health that also has our Student Success Center and our Offices of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

How did you personally and the school itself adapt to the pandemic?

We had known about the issue emerging in China since December. Some of our students who had gone home for the holiday break were impacted first. I assembled a threat assessment team focused on the pandemic in January of 2020. By February, we knew it would be very serious. We shut down the university in March, sent our students home and moved more than 1,000 courses and all our services online.

How did you make the transition to online and how much will remain?

Prior to that, all of our units had done business continuity plans. Between February and March, we had everybody do planning in case we had to go remote. We executed those plans. Our Faculty Center for Professional Excellence did an amazing amount of work with our faculty, getting them up to speed with online classes. They hosted online workshops through the spring and summer and focused on the quality of the experience for our students and faculty members.

Will Adelphi continue to offer online options?

We’ll see more classes online. Some classes lend themselves to online format and others need to be in person. For example, our dance instructors in the fall of 2020 conducted dance classes online. We were glad that by spring of 2021, we were able to have them in person. I think there was a lot of learning and innovation. As we continue to think about 2021 and beyond, it’ll be a mixture of online, hybrid – half in person and half online – and fully in-person classes.

What does reopening, if you can call it, that mean?

People haven’t been back together for the most part in a year and a half. We had some classes in person in the fall of 2020 and spring of 2021. Everyone wore masks and socially distanced. We required daily health screenings, performed random Covid testing, installed temperature scanners. And we did what was permitted by the state. Opening a university is like opening a minicity. We have gyms, retail with the bookstore, dining facilities, hotels with residence halls, interfaith, day care. We had about 15 different opening plans per state guidelines. The last thing to reopen was the gyms and athletics.

How is morale and overall mental health after a year of isolation for some people?

I think everybody’s excited to come back together. There’s also some nervousness. We are very concerned about the mental health of our students and employees. We made sure to provide extra mental health resources. We now offer both virtual and in-person counseling for students. We have an employee assistance program. We started a partnership with Headspace to offer meditation sessions for our students.

How is the reopening process different than a typical return in September?

Undergraduate students have an online orientation throughout the summer, and a three-day in-person welcome weekend. Events will allow them to interact with each other and the more than 80 clubs on campus. We will have our annual matriculation ceremony this year to officially welcome them into the university. This year, we’re paying attention not only to the first-year students, but the second-year students. We’re planning social events throughout the fall.

What’s going on with cost and student debt?

Adelphi awards more than $80 million in need- and merit-based scholarship assistance as part of our budgets. It continues to go up every year.  As part of our Momentum strategic plan, we started a scholarship matching program. If a donor gave $25,000, we would match it. Our average student debt is about $24,000 and we have a low loan default rate. We work as closely as we can with students and families so they can afford their education and make it viable.

How do you look at diversity and increase it?

Five years ago, I introduced a vice president for diversity, equity, and inclusion and established a new office dedicated to making Adelphi a model university in this area. All search committees for new faculty, administrators, and leadership positions go through diversity training. We look at how we’re recruiting students. We publish our materials in Spanish as well as English. Our financial aid programs are conducted in English and Spanish. All of our colleges and schools now have a diversity, equity, and inclusion strategic plan. More than 1,000 of our employees have taken diversity training. This summer our board elected Adelphi’s first Black male as chair, our first Hispanic female as vice-chair, and our first Asian American male as secretary.

How has enrollment been affected by the pandemic?

During the uncertainty and challenge of the pandemic, we saw a small decline in undergraduate students while students and families paused to evaluate their educational plans. This fall we have a record incoming first-year class. We won’t have final numbers now. It will likely be the largest first-year class we’ve had in the history of the university.

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Long Island’s First Amazon Fresh Supermarket Reportedly Coming to Plainview

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Getty Images

Workers recently were busy renovating a former Fairway Market in Manetto Hill Plaza in Plainview. The plan reportedly is to open Long Island’s first Amazon Fresh supermarket at the site.

“We missed having a supermarket in the shopping center,” said a worker at Optical Image, in the shopping center near the vacant store.

While Long Island has long been a land rich in supermarkets, it is now the center of a kind of global food fight over suburban shopping dollars. In a time of supermarket shuffles, more players are jumping into the fray.

German grocery retailer Lidl is growing and Aldi has arrived from Italy, and now Amazon, after acquiring Whole Food Market, reportedly prepares to open its first Long Island Amazon Fresh in a shopping center owned by Kimco Realty Corporation.

That decision, first reported in Newsday, which cited building department documents, was then reported by Progressive Grocer, although Amazon has declined to comment.

“It’s a competitive marketplace. King Kullen is a player along with Stop & Shop and you have ShopRites out here,” Marcum National Food and Beverage Practice Leader Louis Biscotti said. “Those are all significant players. I think it will get even more competitive.”

Walmart as well as specialty players such as Uncle Giuseppe’s Marketplace vie for a share of the Long Island market and the territory of your breakfast, lunch, and dinner table.

“It’s nice and clean and the people are friendly,” Mark Marajh said as he exited a fairly new, massive ShopRite near a Lidl.

Another shopper minutes later exited a Lidl, where a ShopRite had been until it moved to a larger location. “I love it,” the shopper said as he left Lidl. “The pricing is good. Lidl brands are great.”

On the most basic level, demographics are driving a grocery gold rush on Long Island as loyalties are tested, toyed with, and changed.

“There’s a place for everyone. Look at Costco and the Kirkland brand,” Biscotti said of Costco’s private label. “It depends on the consumer and what they’re looking for.”

Suffolk County in 2019 had about 1.5 million residents, including 489,000 households, while Nassau had 1.4 million people and 448,000 households. A lot of players want a piece of this massive shopping cart, which only seemed to grow during the pandemic.

Lidl, which operates around 11,200 stores in 32 countries, has grown to 125 stores in the United States, since entering the market in 2017. Lidl said it’s offering $200 to employees to get vaccinated, as supermarkets seek to stay safe and attract consumers in-store.

“Lidl has made it a priority to adapt our policies to work better for our people during this pandemic,” former Lidl US CEO Johannes Fieber said of the chain that operates more than 10 stores on Long Island

Lidl on May 19 converted a Best Market it acquired in Westhampton Beach to its Lidl brand. “Best Markets was a big acquisition for them,” Biscotti said. “That was a good inroad in the Long Island marketplace.”

Aldi has grown to more than 2,000 stores in the United States. Since opening in Bay Shore in 2011, Aldi has grown to more than half a dozen on Long Island and roughly 15 in New York City and Long Island combined.

“Long Island is an important market for us,” an Aldi U.S. executive told Supermarket News in August 2020.

Longtime local presence ShopRite, a cooperative including individual owners operating under the ShopRite banner, has been growing. New Jersey-based Wakefern Food Corp., the cooperative’s merchandising and distribution arm, reported $18.3 billion in retail sales for the 53-week fiscal year ending Oct. 3, 2020, up 9.75 percent from the prior year.

“Our customers turned to us for reassurance and for the things they wanted and needed for their families during this challenging time,” Wakefern President and COO Joe Sheridan said.

The Greenfield family, led by father and son Jon and Seth Greenfield, own and operate the 68,000-square-foot ShopRite of Country Pointe in the new Country Pointe center in Plainview and four other ShopRites on Long Island.

Meanwhile, Amazon Fresh, which operates stores smaller than the typical supermarket, reportedly will take 33,000 square feet of the 55,000-square-foot former Fairway, relying on big data and smaller stores.

“There’s a big debate on that,” Biscotti said of store size, as some retailers seek to target tastes with big data, while others seek to go big.

Amazon in 2017 bought Whole Foods Market for $13.7 billion and opened a chain of Amazon Go convenience stores with high-tech check out.  “When they bought Whole Foods, Amazon had a vision,” Biscotti continued. “They’re trying to ramp it up.”

Amazon opened its first Amazon Fresh store in August 2020, in Woodland Hills, Calif., and operates roughly a dozen and reportedly plans to open nearly 30 more with automated checkout technology.

“Supermarkets must have up-to-date technology. You go into a store and promotions can be downloaded directly to your phone,” Biscotti said of tech becoming more common. “It will direct you to the shelf.”

He said retailers need to tailor selection to neighborhoods, using data and artificial intelligence to better serve shoppers. Supermarkets also are “adding ancillary service and things that attract the consumer,” Biscotti said.

In addition to beefing up delivery, supermarkets sometimes offer pharmacies, financial centers, sitting areas to eat, restaurants and, now and then, live music.

Amazon could shake up the supermarket industry, but the company doesn’t have a monopoly on the Midas touch. Amazon in 2016 launched the 365 by Whole Foods Market chain, but by 2019 converted the stores to Whole Foods stores.

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George Korten, Owner of George Martin Restaurants on Long Island, Talks Business

george martin
George Korten.

George Korten and his company, the George Martin Group, have built a restaurant brand on and beyond Long Island including George Martin The Original and GM Burger Bar, both in Rockville Centre; Grillfire in Merrick; and George Martin’s Strip Steak in Great River. There’s also George Martin’s Grillfire and Italian concept Vivo, both in The Hotel at Arundel Preserve, Hanover, Md. We talked with Korten about restaurants persevering through the pandemic and beyond.

What unites and differentiates your restaurants?

It’s a multiconcept company. All the concepts are different however, a passion for hospitality and attention for detail are focal points. With everyone that we hire, we look for an emotional IQ, an understanding of people and how to serve them and make them feel good about their experience. We’re in the business of making people happy. It’s the food, the service and so many details.

How did you and the company handle the pandemic?

It was a shock to everyone. On March 13, the government shut everybody down. It was a terrible time. No one could wrap their head around it. No one knew how long it would last and how we would move past it. The uncertainty and stress affected staff, customers, everybody.

What was the next key moment toward a turnaround?

Ultimately, we were allowed to open and transition to takeout and delivery. That was a breath of fresh air after being closed. We followed every government guideline we could, from sanitizing to masking up to social distancing. Ultimately, we got through it, transitioning from takeout delivery to 25 percent capacity, to 50 percent, to 75 percent capacity. It was a long 15 months.

Did the Paycheck Protection Program help?

The two rounds of PPP were a lifesaver for everyone. We were very grateful for that. I don’t believe anyone in any business would still be open if it was brick and mortar. The shutdown stopped the cash flow. Thankfully, all my landlords were very accommodating.

How important was it to be safe and make workers and consumers feel safe?

There’s a whole new component now, and that’s safety. That’s all I heard during the pandemic: “I feel safe going to a George Martin restaurant.” They knew we were really paying attention. That’s a big thing.

How are things now?

There’s a tremendous pent-up demand. The vaccination process has been such a success. This entire time period was a 15-month loss to almost everyone. Folks want to get out and get back to something that resembles normal. Our restaurants have a good reputation. We’ve been around a long time. We really take care of our customers. They’re coming back in droves.

Has it been tougher than usual to hire enough people?

There is a labor crisis on top of a pandemic crisis. The pent-up demand to go out to restaurants exceeds the supply of staff that is needed to handle the demand. And that has affected most restaurants, from Long Island to San Francisco. The additional federal unemployment is probably part of the problem, but I believe there are other components as well contributing to the shortage.

Why did you go into the restaurant business?

I was 16 when I started washing dishes at a local restaurant to make money. I came from a single-parent household and needed to help my mom, since every penny counted. I played three sports as well, which was tough, not leaving much time for anything else. I went on to learn all the different positions in a restaurant, including assistant managing. By age 19, I was tending bar at the Playboy Club of New York. One thing led to another and the general manager wrote a letter of recommendation for me for Cornell University’s School of Hotel Administration. I drove up there to interview and was accepted, a major turning point in my young adult life.

Did studying hospitality at Cornell help?

Cornell taught me how to deal with intense pressure and think analytically. From there I went to Manhattan and worked for Hyatt Hotels for about 6 months. After Hyatt, I was able to find a management position at a company with three entrepreneurs, spearheaded by Michael Weinstein, who pioneered restaurant growth on the Upper West Side in the ’80s. I worked my way up to director of operations. On my day off, I would walk the streets of every neighborhood in New York, one neighborhood at a time, and look at different concepts.

What’s your role in the company today?

Today it’s very different from when I got started. I’m president of the company. We have a terrific group of managers, chefs, financial and marketing people who have grown with me over the years. They all do such a terrific job, which helped perpetuate our growth.

Did anything good for restaurants come out of the pandemic?

An awareness and importance of sanitation. It was there before, but it’s even more important now. We’re very diligent about it. Most restaurants have learned a lot. To everyone’s credit, the percentage of positive cases in restaurants on Long Island and across New York in was very low. I think that’s due to following mask guidelines and sanitation.

In addition to good food, how important is atmosphere in attracting people?

It’s a whole package, from design to food, hospitality, service, everything. It’s not one component. It’s all of that put together. We haven’t had any problem getting people back. We’ve been around, we have a reputation, a brand.

Has takeout grown?

Takeout is a bigger part. We have been working hard at it to be efficient. That was a positive. I think it’s here to stay. We did meal kits. We were creative.

Do you think diners appreciate restaurants more?

People are so happy to be out and in our restaurants. We have regular and new customers. They’re part of the family.

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