James Bernstein

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Long Islanders Recall Leading Role in Moon Landing

Astronaut Edwin E."Buzz" Aldrin Jr., Lunar Module pilot, is photographed during the Apollo 11 extravehicular activity on the Moon on July 20, 1969. (Photo by Neil Armstrong/NASA Photo)

The vehicle that took a dozen U.S. astronauts to the moon starting a half-century ago would not meet anyone’s definition of beauty: It looked like a giant grasshopper with bugged-out eyes and spindly legs.

But the Apollo Lunar Module, also known as the Apollo Lunar Lander, was arguably the most remarkable vehicle ever built, one that brought glory not only to its manufacturer, Grumman Aerospace Corporation of Bethpage, but to the National Aeronautics and Space Administration and to the United States. The nearly 10-year project to build the LM was among Grumman’s proudest efforts, and the centerpiece of the company’s contribution to America’s space effort.

For the country, the Moon program — NASA called it Project Apollo — began on May 25, 1961, when President John F. Kennedy proposed before Congress that the U.S. “should commit itself to achieving the goal, before this decade is out, of landing a man on the Moon and returning him safely to Earth.”

Those LM days are now taking focus again in the minds of Grummies, as they called themselves, as the anniversary of the first Moon landing in 1969 approaches. Throughout July, celebrations are scheduled across the country to commemorate one of the most memorable days in world history. Several events are to be held at the Cradle of Aviation Museum in Garden City, which on July 20 will hold an “Apollo at 50 Countdown Celebration,” including a screening of Neil Armstrong’s first steps on the Moon.

Grummies are delighted to recall those days.

“Everybody was enthusiastic,” says Mike Lisa, now 76, of Hicksville, who was an LM environmental test engineer. “Our job was to put guys on the Moon, and that’s what we did.”

The work became all consuming at a company accustomed to work and pressure. Grumman signed a $2 billion contract — enormous at the time — with NASA in 1962.

“We didn’t know anything about a clock,” says Sam Koepel, now 90, of Floral Park, who wrote and edited LM specifications. “We did everything exactly when the company needed it done.”

Dick Dunne of West Islip, now in his late 70s, had spent most of his professional career with Grumman, beginning in the early 1960s. He worked on some technical issues with the LM before being assigned to the public relations department, in Bethpage and at Cape Canaveral.

Dunne and others were confident Grumman could do the job, but could it succeed in sending a man to the Moon by the end of the decade?

Grumman was the last of the big aerospace companies to officially sign on to the project, concentrating on engineering studies to make sure the LM could work.

“We were going through project managers like you wouldn’t believe,” Dunne recalls. “At the beginning, the project was so big you couldn’t get your hands around it.”

One of the biggest problems was weight: The LM had to be both as light as possible and yet strong to withstand the rigors of space. The issue was so crucial that NASA paid Grumman $10,000 for every pound the company managed to take off the LM, says author and space historian Andrew Chaikin. The LM wound up weighing about 37,000 pounds.

“The result was that the LM didn’t look like a spaceship. but a mechanical insect,” Chaikin says.

Six of the modules took 12 astronauts to the Moon between 1969 and 1972. 

During the manufacturing years, Grumman’s workforce swelled to about 30,000 employees, the most since World War II. Then, the company employed about 40,000, building Navy Hellcat and Wildcat combat planes, on three shifts.

In the Apollo days, astronauts were a common sight in Bethpage, checking out LM systems and working with engineers. One of the most frequent visitors was Fred Haise, who was one of three astronauts aboard the ill-fated Apollo 13, in 1970. An explosion in an oxygen tank in the service module caused a dramatic loss of oxygen. Apollo 13 was forced to end its attempt to reach the Moon. The astronauts crawled into the LM, which served as a lifeboat to take them headed back to Earth safely. Haise later became an executive in Grumman’s space program.

The LM was the most challenging vehicle Grumman ever built. It was designed solely for space flight and could not be tested before it was put into service 250,000 miles from Earth. It could not operate on this planet and could never return to Earth. And, it may be the only manmade vehicle with a perfect performance record.

The most famous of the LM flights was Apollo 11, which took two astronauts, Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, to the Moon, on July 20, 1969.

In space, with two astronauts aboard, the LM was jettisoned from an orbiting command and service module, about 60 miles from the Moon. The command and service module, flown by Michael Collins, the third astronaut, remained in orbit around the Moon until the LM’s ascent stage blasted off from the lunar surface and rejoined the orbiting command and service module. The descent stage remained on the lunar surface.

The world was glued to TV sets the night of the first Moon landing. Bill Schwanker of Lynbrook, also now in his late ’70s, and an electronics design engineer, was home when Armstrong took that first step.

“Watching it sent chills up your spine,” says Schwanker.

Decades after his flight, I interviewed Armstrong. He was not an easy interview, finding the publicity distasteful. He was at heart a country boy and a man of few words.

I asked him whether he ever looked up at the Moon and said to himself, “I was there.”

He reflected on the question, smiled for the first time in the interview and, characteristically, offered a one-word response: “Frequently,” he said.

United Way of Long Island President and CEO Theresa Regnante: Leading The Way

United Way of Long Island President and CEO Theresa Regnante is a local philanthropic powerhouse.

Theresa Regnante is President and CEO of United Way of Long Island, the region’s largest philanthropic organization, which works with more than 100 community partners to support education, health care, career training, and housing needs of thousands of people in Nassau and Suffolk counties. She first worked for United Way of Long Island in 1986, leaving in 2003 to take a position with the EAC Network. She returned to United Way in 2009, as President and CEO. She was raised in West Islip and graduated from High Point University in North Carolina.

How do you approach companies and individuals for donations in this age of Twitter and everything digital? It has becoming increasingly difficult in the age of technology to gain support where we do not have easy access to direct interface. The best way for us to steward our donors is by meeting with people one-on-one and discussing United Way’s impact.

What has been the biggest change? Twenty years ago, our revenue stream was dominated by large companies. Since then, Long Island’s corporate and economic landscape has changed so our fundraising strategy has also changed. Today we obtain grants from federal and state government and foundations, and we receive gifts from high net-worth individuals. While we have enhanced our revenue portfolio, we still rely on loyal individuals in the workplace to support United Way.

Then you are still growing? Today, our budget is around $18 million. Ten years ago, our budget was $15 million.

Have you been impacted by President Trump’s tax overhaul? It’s difficult to measure if the change in the tax status has impacted our organization. Regardless of who is leading the country, we must raise the revenue needed to impact results.

Can you talk about the $1.1 million federal grant you were recently awarded to help operate YouthBuild in Hempstead? YouthBuild is a program for men and women ages 18 to 24 to work toward their TASC High School Equivalency Diploma, while earning essential job skills. Graduates are placed in career apprenticeships or a college degree program. There are more than 200 YouthBuild programs nationwide and, in 2018, United Way of Long Island was one of 81 recipients across 32 states to receive a U.S. Department of Labor YouthBuild grant.

Do you think most people on Long Island are aware of the work you do? The more than 300,000 people who receive services certainly understand our impact. United Way operates programs directly, makes grants and works with community partners, so we are not easily understood. Organizations with a singular focus, like Habitat for Humanity, have a clearer understanding in the public eye.

How do you basically describe yourself to people? United Way provides and connects people to resources. We help all of our neighbors, including the unemployed and working families. We help veterans get on their feet through Mission United, we help families through times of financial difficulty with Project Warmth, Long Island’s only non governmental emergency fuel fund, we provide career training through YouthBuild and VetsBuild programs, and we provide support to more than 100 partner agencies across Long Island.

Tell us about your efforts in housing. United Way has been building homes for 20 years. For the past four years, we’ve been the Grand Winner of the U.S. Department of Energy Housing Innovation Awards in the area of Affordable Housing. We just completed our first home in partnership with the Suffolk County Landbank in East Patchogue. Our housing model is to develop homes that prioritize energy efficiency and low operating costs.

Do you plan to build more Zero Energy-Ready Homes? Our goal is to lead the nonprofit housing industry in the latest technology and detailing in order to build healthy and high-performance homes.

What’s coming up that’s important for Long Island’s needy population? The U.S. Census, which helps determine how federal funds are allocated, for health and welfare, so it is important to make sure this region is not undercounted. We’ve got to get it right or the dollars don’t come in.

Would you consider doing something else with your life? Everyday is a different journey. I am challenged by the opportunities across the region to affect positive change and use my creativity to build partnerships. It’s a position that’s very rewarding, to know that we are helping many Long Island families.

Long Island’s Summer Tourism Outlook Depends On The Weather

If you build a huge hotel near the beach, complete with pool, sauna, and steam room on Long Island’s East End, will more and more visitors come each year?

Maybe, and maybe not.

Most major indices point to a healthy summer season on the Twin Forks this year. The economy is strong, unemployment is low at about 3.8 percent, gas prices have remained steady at about $2.70 to $2.75, a few cents lower than last year at this time, the cost of airfare to Europe and Asia is high, keeping more people closer to home, the stock market keeps rising, and consumer confidence is high.

But there is one constant that no one can predict.

“It is always, always, always about the weather,” says Steve Haweeli, a veteran East Ender and former president of the East Hampton Chamber of Commerce. “If it’s a cold summer, it’s not going to bode well for the East End.”

As always, most on the East End are optimistic.

“I’m always looking for a better summer than the last one,” says Mark Smith, owner of Nick and Toni’s in East Hampton, and several other high-end restaurants. “The economy is better. That should be good for business out here. But people say the real estate market is overpriced, and there could be a correction. You just never know.”

Long Island’s East End is made up of five towns — Riverhead, Southampton, East Hampton, Southold and Shelter Island — that offer a sweeping vista of Atlantic Ocean shoreline, Long Island Sound waters, dense forests populated by deer and other wildlife, and majestic  images like the Montauk Lighthouse, whose construction was approved by George Washington in 1792. The East End is dotted by charming Victorian homes in East Hampton and Southampton, and quaint bungalows and wineries on the bucolic North Fork. Winters, most of the East End is a ghost town. Summers, it is teeming with visitors, all-night dance clubs, bars, tony restaurants, and farm stands where farm-fresh food is sold.

The East End is also big business. According to Discover Long Island, the tourism-promoting agency, tourism on the Island is a $5.9 billion industry that supports some 100,000 jobs and expects this year to generate more than $720 million in local and state tax revenues. The agency says that 48 percent of visitors come to Long Island in the summer, 22 percent in the spring, 21 percent in autumn, and 9 percent in winter.

“Our trends show year-over-year growth in tourism, of from 3 percent to 5 percent,” says Kristen Jarnagin, Discover Long Island’s president and chief executive. “But you just never know,” she added, citing the uncertainty of the weather and limited new hotel inventory.

Gurney’s, for decades one of the biggest names in the hotel business on the East End, has become even larger with its recent purchase of the Montauk Yacht Club Resort & Marina. Now known as Gurney’s Montauk Yacht Club & Resort, owner George Filopoulos expects a banner year.

“We are so pleased to launch a second location that will extend the Gurney’s experience…while introducing  a new type of stay in the marina setting,” Filopoulos says.

Erin Keneally, a real-estate agent with the Corcoran Group, says that in the last few years, renters have been making their summer plans later than in the past, just because they are busier in the hyper-cyber age. Rentals this year so far have been slow, “but are picking up.”

Summer rentals are going from anywhere between $50,000 for a cottage to $1 million for beachfront property in Southampton and East Hampton, Keneally says.

One major factor on the real estate scene this year is the growing presence of lodging arranged through the San Francisco-based internet company Airbnb. Judy Desiderio, CEO of Town & Country Real Estate, estimates that about 50 percent of summer renters are now Airbnbs — generally meaning shorter-term stays — compared with about 40 percent who are seasonal, meaning stays of about two months.

Most on the East End have come to accept it.

“Change is inevitable,” Desiderio says.

Fairly or not, the mostly youngish Airbnb people have been accused of hosting loud, late-night parties and cramming more people into a house than town and village codes permit. The villages have struck back.

There is now a mandatory rental registry in East Hampton, which includes Montauk, Amagansett and Springs. Landlords must fill out two-page forms, have them notarized and pay a $100 fee. They must also verify their certificates of occupancy. They then get a registry number, which must appear in all ads for their homes.

Southampton has similar rules and regulations in place. On the North Fork, Southold has imposed a minimum 14-day stay at homes. Airbnb spokeswoman Liz DeBold Fusco says the company urges renters to cooperate with the towns and villages.

“The rules and regulations seem to be working,” says David Betts, director of public safety in East Hampton.

About that long-range weather forecast: The National Weather Service at Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton says there’s about a 50 percent chance of above-normal temperatures and precipitation on the East End this summer.

So will there be a good summer? Flip a coin.

LI Builders Institute CEO Mitch Pally: He’s Still Building

Mitch Pally

There is barely a committee, organization or group that hasn’t, at one time or another, had Mitch Pally as a member or a director. His resume is so chockablock with names of government or private agencies that it would seem he would be a household name on Long Island. But Pally is more of a behind-the-scenes guy, preferring to roll up his sleeves and let the other guy take the credit, those who know him well say. He is currently chief executive officer of the Long Island Builders Institute, a post he has held since 2010. He was Suffolk County’s representative to the Metropolitan Transportation Authority between 2005 and 2019. He may best be known for his ties to the Long Island Association, where he was vice president for government affairs, from 1992 to 2006. He has also held a number of positions with the New York State Legislature.

What is the Long Island Builders Institute all about? We are the trade association for residential home builders and anyone else in the industry. That includes small firms all the way up to giants like Avalon Bay. It includes real estate people, lawyers, people involved in development. We have 575 members. We are the largest local organization of this type in the state and within the top 10 percent in the country.

Are you also lobbyists? That’s a good way to put it. We promote and lobby for the industry.

You have been fighting against what’s called the Scaffold Law. What’s that all about? The law goes back over 100 years. It says that any worker off the ground, it doesn’t say by how high, who falls and gets injured, there is no defense for the builder. New York State is the only one in the country that has such a law. The law increases insurance costs by 40 percent.

Has anything happened recently to cause you to fight this law? We have been working on this for a while. We don’t think it’s fair that there is no defense for the builder. We think if the builder is held 50 percent responsible, he should pay 50 percent. But under this law, the builder pays 100 percent.

Have you had much success so far? We’re getting more attention but not much success convincing the state legislature or the governor.

Long Island’s demographics are changing dramatically. What does this mean for builders? We are not building as many single-family homes as we used to. We don’t have the available land. Many of our young people and seniors want something where they don’t have to do maintenance work. As a result, the rental market on Long Island is strong. Downtowns are realizing that the way to survive is to build rental apartments.

So are the days of the single-family home on Long Island over? There will be a moderation of such building. As long as builders are able to build smaller, there will be a healthy market, but it will be a different market. Builders will have to change with the market.

It’s hard to think of Long Island without new single-family home construction. We don’t have the land and we don’t have the sewer systems.

Let’s talk about affordable housing. Do we have enough? We have to build more affordable rental apartments. There are not enough. The young people, and many of the seniors, want rentals in downtown areas, near train stations, shopping and entertainment.

How do you see our downtowns? Some of them are more forward-looking than others. Patchogue is the best example of being forward-looking. But other places are as well, like Mineola, Port Jefferson, and Farmingdale.

How is the industry doing on Long Island? Very well, as long as builders know their market, that it is less single-family and more rental units. There are also knockdowns. This means taking down an existing house and putting up something else. That’s going on a lot too these days.

D’Addario & Co. Guitar String Maker Strums Along in Farmingdale Despite Tariff Discord

Farmingdale-based D'Addario is a leading making of guitar strings. (Getty Images)

At D’Addario & Co., a Farmingdale-based manufacturer of guitar strings and other musical accessories, executives are whistling a happy tune these days.

Sales have risen comfortably, the company has expanded into new spaces, and its charitable foundation is flourishing. But there are some sour notes out there that keep John D’Addario III, the company’s president and son of its former chief executive, awake at night.

“But it’s like whack-a-mole,” the energetic D’Addario, who became president four years ago, says during an interview in his office. “Things just keep popping up.”

One of the biggest headaches, D’Addario says, is rampant counterfeiting. Several years ago, D’Addario’s father, Jim, then the CEO, identified China as the main culprit in schemes that damaged the company’s reputation. The quality of the counterfeit strings was incredibly poor, Jim D’Addario says. In most cases, Chinese string manufacturers make low-quality strings, and copy D’Addario’s packaging.

A second major issue is the tariff war between the U.S. and China. When President Donald Trump in March imposed sharp tariffs on China, the Chinese responded. The Chinese response has negatively impacted D’Addario, because its strings make use of steel.

And, while D’Addario is growing, it may not be able to continue to add to its employee base, which stands at about 800 on Long Island now, most of them in manufacturing. That’s because of minimum wage rates, which are expected to rise to $15 an hour on January 1, 2020. D’Addario says the company may even have to reduce staff.

The company has enlisted the support of members of Congress to help in its war against counterfeiters, who D’Addario said now include several other Pacific-Asian nations, including Vietnam and Indonesia. The company is also looking for ways to maintain employee growth and deal with tariffs.

The U.S. government, and some Chinese leaders, say they are trying to crack down on counterfeiters. But Secretary of State Mike Pompeo recently told a business group in Iowa that Chinese counterfeit goods and products “remain persistent problems.”

D’Addario has a long and prestigious history in the music business and on LI, where it operates the D’Addario Foundation, which helps students, many in struggling areas, receive musical instruction. It also raised $45,000 from its Music Education for Girls Initiative on International Women’s Day in March. The Initiative provides resources and guidance for young women to study music. The foundation says young women have been “vastly underrepresented in the music industry.”

The foundation has been the driving force behind the Ascenté Chamber Orchestra in the Copiague School District, where students receive private lessons.

The company traces its roots back to the late 1600s. The D’Addario family of string-makers was based in the small Italian town of Salle. But a massive earthquake devastated the town in 1905, and two brothers-in-law, Rocco and Carmine D’Addario came to Astoria, Queens to continue their business. They opened a small string shop behind their family home.

New popular music in the 20th century made guitars highly popular. In 1974, the company decided to make strings under its own name, after a brief partnership with another company, Martin Guitars.

D’Addario’s sales are about $180 million a year, up from about $120 million a decade ago. The privately held company does not release its net income. It has about 1,200 employees worldwide, with operations in Europe. It also produces cables, earplugs, electronic tuners, picks, drumheads, drumsticks, and reeds for woodwind instruments.

John D’Addario recalls being 7 years old when he first visited the company, with his father, Jim. After working for a few years in the cosmetics industry, he began working full time for the company in 1996.

“We’re going to innovate new products,” D’Addario says. “The company is devising ways to keep abreast of the digital music business, and it is also looking to open more overseas offices, particularly in the Pacific-Asia region, even though much counterfeiting takes place there.”

Nonetheless, D’Addario says, “By 2030, two-thirds of spending by the middle class will come from the Pacific-Asia region. I see massive opportunities there.”

GSE Dynamics CEO Anne Shybunko-Moore: Hitting Her Targets

Anne D. Shybunko-Moore is CEO and Owner of GSE Dynamics Inc., which specializes in providing complex structural assemblies direct to the U.S. Air Force, Navy and Army, as well as Major Aerospace Primes.

Anne Shybunko-Moore, chief executive officer and owner of GSE Dynamics Inc., a military contractor in Hauppauge, has gained a reputation over the years as a leading advocate for the manufacturing industry on Long Island. She joined the company in 2001 and became owner and CEO 16 years ago. The company was started by her father, Daniel, a Grumman engineer, in 1971. She serves on Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s Long Island Regional Economic Development Council and, in 2016, founded Ignite, the Manufacturing Consortium of Long Island.

You were once pretty much alone as a woman heading a defense company. Have things changed over the years? Absolutely. In the last 10 years, I’ve seen a sea change. Marilyn Hewson is CEO at Lockheed Martin. Eren Ozman is owner and president at Sierra Nevada Corp. But at the beginning, I had to prove myself. I had changed careers. I was in physical therapy before. Then I went into aerospace. I had to become more confident. I felt I needed to learn to have a stronger voice.

Do you see yourself as a leader for women? I never saw myself as a role model for women.

But women have come to see you that way? Well, because of the choices I made and the personal changes I made, suddenly people may see me as a role model. The young women within the industry look up to me. I try to steer them to science, technology, engineering, and math in schools.

How has GSE Dynamics done since you took over? When I first came to GSE in 2001, we had under $10 million in Defense Department contracts and we employed about 23 people. Today, we have close to $100 million in DOD contracts and we have 76 employees. Two years ago, we were ranked No. 10 in terms of small business volume by the Defense Department and ranked No 1 for woman-owned small business.

What accounts for that kind of growth? We have been very strategic in our work with the government and prime contractors. A few years ago, we entered the world of composites. We were ahead of the curve on that. We haven’t let metal work go, but there’s more composite work now than there was 10 to 15 years ago. The composites are more flexible and stronger.

What makes up the majority of your work? We are very much involved with the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy. We deliver periscopes and antennas for Navy submarines. We also have contracts to build devices for Army tanks. All our work is military.

You play a very active role in promoting manufacturing on Long Island. How is it doing? There are 3,000 manufacturing companies here and 70,000 employees. These companies all say they could grow if they had more support from the state. Many trade organizations in the state are funded, but we have not been able to get our trade organization funded. It’s hard to get a solid answer as to why. We have an organization called Ignite. It’s an advocacy group. We’re helping companies with development and their workforces.

What do you think is one of the manufacturing industry’s main problems? Image. It needs a rebranding. We have to get parents of high school and college kids to see manufacturing is not back in the old days of putting bolts and rivets into metal. Today, it’s research and development, materials science. Things like that.

Are the schools in line with manufacturing today? They are not connecting with manufacturing companies. They are not connecting to the core competencies, to the work we are actually doing. I don’t think they teach the career pathways.

Is there a future for manufacturing on Long Island? There better be. Without it, this region cannot survive. We rely on manufacturing, tourism, and the health industry. All three face the same challenges and are impacted by the same issues. We need to get people to talk about coming to Long Island and staying here and working here. It is all a matter of branding ourselves.

How WellLife Network’s CEO Leads By Example In Turning Loss Into A Positive

Unimaginable tragedies change people’s lives dramatically — some for the better and some not.

In Sherry Tucker’s case, her life became a compendium of untiring efforts to help other people, after the tragic death of her 8-year-old son, Zach, who succumbed to brain cancer, on May 9, 2006, in Florida.

“Life stopped,” says Tucker, 55.

But not for long. Tucker, her husband, Dirk, and their daughter, Lexi, embarked on a journey that is still unfolding. Last July, Tucker was named chief executive officer of Queens-based WellLife Network, one of the New York metropolitan area’s largest care organizations.

WellLife is a $100 million nonprofit serving some 25,000 individuals through 100 programs that cover behavioral health, family developmental disabilities, addiction recovery services, vocational training, and food pantries. It employs more than 1,800 people, including psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, and direct-support professionals.

About 50 percent of WellLife’s work focuses on the developmentally disabled and the other 50 percent on those suffering with mental health and drug abuse issues. Established in 1980, it also operates group homes and is funded by New York City, New York State, and Nassau and Suffolk counties.

May is Mental Health Month, and Tucker said WellLife will staff a table at the National Alliance on Mental Ilnesss’ May 10 walk-a-thon. WellLife is also hosting a community service day May 17. About 100 volunteers, composed of community members and staff, will work on beautification projects at its facilities.

Sitting at a conference table in her third-floor office, Tucker, a native Midwesterner, says she doesn’t think she would be WellLlife’s CEO had it not been for what she and her family went through.

“I think all of that enlightened me,” says Tucker, a CPA by training. “It awakened me to spirituality. My husband and I focused on what was coming next and what we had to do.”

Before Zach’s illness, the family was living a “very typical and normal” life in Florida, where they moved to escape the deep and long Midwestern winter.

“Our family was living the middle-class American dream,” Tucker wrote in a book she published in 2008, Unfinished Love: Walking By Faith Through Pediatric Cancer.

Her CPA job and her husband’s engineering position provided a good living. There were soccer games, music lessons, swim meets, and basketball.

Then Zach had trouble moving his arm, then a leg. The couple panicked.

“We certainly never thought about pediatric cancer,” Tucker wrote.

The mourning was deep. But according to Tucker, one day, the couple’s daughter, then 11, said, “’Mom, Zack would not want this. He would want us to celebrate his life.’”

“That knocked me over,” Tucker recalls.

So, the family went out and took popsicles to the local swim team. Tucker decided, she says, that God had a mission for her, to help others heal.

She started an organization in Tampa, Giving Hope through Faith Foundation, which offered services to children fighting cancer at local hospitals. She gave out $100 coupons to Wal-Mart so parents could buy food, toys, fuel, or simply go to a movie. Even the small dollar amounts helped.

“One mother said, ‘Thank you. I used the money so I could buy a dress to bury my daughter in,” Tucker recalls.

Through a business connection in Florida, Tucker hooked up with an agency, then known as Promoting Specialized Care and Health (PSCH), which later became WellLife. She signed on as a consultant in 2010, became chief financial officer in 2015 and CEO on July 1, 2018. The family now lives in Roslyn. She replaced Alan M. Weinstock, who retired last year after 11 years.

Joshua Lamberg, founder and CEO Lamb Insurance Services, which works exclusively with nonprofit and social service agencies, has come to know Tucker well.

“Sherry has been outstanding in the way she has managed her staff and moved WellLife into the forefront of the industry,” says Lamberg, who last year was honored by the agency for contributions to its programs.

Tucker is guided by seeing to it that she follows principles her son would favor.

“I want that moment when I see my Zack next,” she says, her voice steady and strong. “He will say, ‘Mom you made me proud. You made a difference in life.’”

Long Island’s Silent Pharmaceutical Industry Boom

Since the end of the Cold War in 1991 and the resulting demise of Long Island’s once mighty aerospace and defense industry, local leaders have been searching for a new economic engine to fuel the region.

The software industry was once seen as a possibility, but the largest of the companies, now called CA Technologies, sputtered in scandal and moved its headquarters from Islandia to Manhattan. Biotech was also once a possibility. But a bio-tech park in Farmingdale failed to get off the ground, and new companies did not materialize.

But while the leaders were searching about, one industry that had been overlooked was growing: pharmaceuticals. That includes companies that manufacture over-the-counter and prescription drugs, others that package them, and still others in the process of marketing and selling everything from cold and sore-throat pills to weight-reduction formulas.

“Yes, these types of companies are growing,” says John Lombardo, associate vice president of workforce and economic development at Suffolk County Community College, who has monitored LI’s economy for more than two decades. “They do employ a lot of people because some of these companies run three shifts a day. Some of these companies have two locations on Long Island and some have more than five or six.”

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone says that pharma has been a quiet economic engine.

“As a driving force in our region’s innovation economy, the pharmaceutical industry is responsible for the creation of thousands of high-quality, high-paying jobs for Suffolk County residents,” he says. “For more than five decades, it has silently woven itself into the fabric of our business community. My administration is proud to play its part in supporting the network of companies that lead and support the industry’s expansion and we will continue to explore new pathways with our economic development partners to keep it moving forward.”

New York State employment data supports the idea that the pharma industry is growing on the Island. In 2018, the industry employed about 13,007 people in Nassau and Suffolk counties, up from about 10,000 a decade ago. State figures say the industry tends to be high paying, having spent about $293 million in wages in 2018, up from about $500,000 in 2003. The industry employees a number of scientists and researchers, whose salaries are in the six-to-seven-figure range.

There are about 25 companies in the industry, the majority of them in Suffolk, where land prices are cheaper.

Shatel Patel, Long Island regional economist for the state labor department in Hicksville, characterizes employment growth in the pharma industry here as “moderate,” but says the industry is “one of the drivers of manufacturing overall on Long Island.”

“The pharmaceutical and the food and beverage industries have been increasing manufacturing on Long Island,” Patel says.

The largest of the companies on the Island is Amneal Pharmaceuticals, a nearly $2 billion  corporation headquartered in New Jersey that employs about 1,100 in Suffolk, according to a company spokesman. In February, Amneal said it is planning another expansion of its huge office and factory in South Yaphank, adding that the move will create about 400 new jobs in the next year or so. Amneal is the fifth-largest U.S. manufacturer of generic drugs.

Less-well-known companies in the industry are also growing. Mark Wolf, president of Contract Pharmacy Corp, says that the company operates out of 11 buildings in the Hauppauge Industrial Park.  The company, founded in 1971 in a former gasoline station in Danbury, Conn., moved to LI in 1975 and has about 1,000 employees. The privately held company does several hundred million in sales a year.

“We’ve had tremendous growth in the last three years,” says Wolf, son of the founders, his parents, John and Harriet Wolf. The company recently added hemp, a dietary supplement, to its core products of over-the-counter drugs.

ScieGen Pharmaceuticals in Hauppauge is only eight years old but already has 300 employees and is planning to add a new building, which will mean adding another 200 to 300 workers, says Siva Reddy, the company’s vice president of formulation. The company works on drugs to treat hypertension and other prescription drugs.

“Business has been good,” Reddy says.

Suffolk and the Towns of Islip and Brookhaven have been particularly active in providing pharma companies with tax breaks and other incentives, to make sure they remain here and to help them grow.

Some recent examples:

Amneal received a $600,000 rebate check from the local utility tied to a $150 million energy efficient project it recently completed in South Yaphank. Amneal is also eligible for up to $3 million from New York State for the energy-efficiency project.

A&Z Pharmaceutical Inc., a manufacturer of dietary supplements, was granted $742,500 in tax breaks and a 55 percent reduction in property taxes over 10 years, by Suffolk’s Industrial Development Agency.

Evaric Pharmaceuticals in Hauppauge, a generic drug maker, is working with the Suffolk IDA, which has voted to approve tax breaks to assist with development plans.

But the industry is not without its problems. With unemployment low on the Island, finding and retaining scientist and technicians is difficult, says Wolf, of Contract Pharmacal.

“We take from one another,” Wolf says.

Others in the industry, who asked to remain anonymous, are not as diplomatic.

“We steal from one another,” one says. The competition for top-flight scientists and engineers is intense, and can impact the bottom line.

Food and Drug Administration regulations can be arduous and expensive for companies to comply with. And the industry is intensely competitive, so much so that companies are even naming the OTC brands they supply. Even such small knowledge might provide a competitor with valuable information.

Will all this be the prescription for what ails LI’s economy? As they say, results may vary.

Custom Computer Specialists CEO Greg Galdi Eyes Tech’s Future

Greg Galdi is founder and CEO of Hauppauge-based Custom Computer Specialists

Gregory Galdi is the founder and CEO of Custom Computer Specialists. Before founding Custom in 1979, Greg worked as a chemist at Brookhaven National Laboratory on projects such as radioactive waste management and hydrogen storage processes. It was there that he was introduced to technology and its ability to increase speed and productivity. Greg is a member of the Young Presidents’ Organization, a three-time Entrepreneur of the Year finalist, and recipient of Southampton College’s Distinguished Alumnus Award. He is an auto racing enthusiast and a member of the Sportscar Vintage Racing Association. Greg graduated from Long Island University with a Bachelor of Science in Chemistry.

What does Custom Computer Specialists do? We consist of three companies. The first part manages the operation of Interventional Radiology Departments at hospitals. This software schedules procedures and maintains inventories of stock of perishable medical devices such as stents that maintain blood flow in arteries. We are also a reseller of Infinite Campus, a K-12 student information management system that is a best-in-class, top-tier system. Used by many Long Island districts to manage student records and record student progress, it also has a student portal where parents can monitor their child’s progress and check homework. The third division is an infrastructure and Unified Communications technology design and managed service support organization. We supply technology support, solutions and resources for cities, towns, school districts and healthcare facilities from Philadelphia to Boston.

How did you begin your career? I began my career as a chemist at Brookhaven National Lab, working on radioactive waste storage. Part of my job was to work with computers. I would work daytime at BNL and nights I would write computer programs. I had a keen interest in that. My dad had a Wall Street business, and I also did computer work for him.

When did your company get started? In May 1979. We had three employees back then. Now, we have 300. We have 100,000 square feet of space in Hauppauge. We also have a location at One Penn Plaza in Manhattan and a facility in Rhode Island. Our sales are about $60 million a year.

Tell me what’s most important about your business these days. Back in 1980, hardware was very important. Now, it’s all about professional services. All our staff members have to interface with customers. Everybody has to have a customer service gene. We even evaluate their abilities for that during the hiring process.

Is everybody here computer literate? In 1990, I had 80 to 90 people here. I was the smartest one. By 1991, I wasn’t the smartest one. That’s how fast this industry changes. It’s very difficult these days for someone to know everything. At the highest levels here, only maybe 10 percent can reach a point where they grasp all the software defined network designs and nuances.

You mentioned earlier an interesting meeting you had in 1985 with Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, and others. What did you come away with from that meeting? That opened the door for me to meet with senior executives of Apple and Microsoft. I was able to meet with them and bring back information about the industry to Wall Street and other firms. I also remember Jobs and Gates were talking on a pretty out-of-the-box level. It was fascinating.

Tech is growing so rapidly it’s sometimes scary. Do we know where it’s all going? It is going fast. These days, you have someone like Elon Musk. He’s the Leonardo da Vinci of our times. We saw him launch rockets and retreive them intact. standing
straight up! Right out of the 50s science fiction movies. These times are similar to the beginnings of the Industrial Revolution. A lot of people then were left behind by progress. But things smoothed out. I think we will see that happen again. Technology does present challenges when it enters personal relationships, as it does today. But we will find better ways to use technology.

What’s the biggest advance you have seen in your years in the industry? That would be when the internet emerged from the labs. We were then able to communicate instantly around the world as we never had been able to do. It has all had a tremendous disruptive effect.

Where are we headed? When I founded Custom 40 years ago, I never imagined technology would be where it is today. I see in the future more virtual reality, more robotics and 3-D printing. Virtual reality allows someone to transport themselves, like maybe a surgeon who wants to assist in an operation. It’s the modern-day technological equivalent of the industrial revolution. We’re just in our infancy with all of this now. We should enjoy how rapidly technology is changing our lives today… Because it will never move this slowly again!

Sam Ash: A Family In Harmony

Sammy Ash, chief operating officer of Sam Ash Music Stores, was named after his grandfather, who founded the company nearly a century ago.

Sammy Ash is a third-generation music retailer, with 45 years in the business that was started by his grandfather, Sam Ash, a violinist and teacher, in 1924. Sammy and his team have built the company into one that boasts 45 stores, 1,600 employees and 250 music teachers. Sammy is head of customer service and is responsible for all physical aspects of the company. That includes opening new stores and designing the stores. He has lived on Long Island all his life, and now resides in Suffolk County with his wife and two sons, Alex and Jason.

Have you worked for Sam Ash all of your life? I have been working for the company for more than 45 years now. I did everything from clean the bathrooms, drive and load trucks, warehouse, sales, sales manager, manager and so on. Our father made sure we knew every single aspect of the company.

What is your title now? I am the company chief operating officer. I oversee all physical aspects of the chain, I build and move the stores. I am also head of customer service. There has been an Ash on the other side of the phone, now email, for 95 years, and that will not stop any time soon. If there is a problem that the stores can’t fix, I fix it.

How old were you when you started at the company? I started getting paid on the books at 15. Prior to that I got paid in hot dogs and a few bucks my father would give me.

What did you do before working for Sam Ash? I was a rebel and I didn’t want to work for “my daddy’s business,” so I parked cars, tried pumping gas, anything my friends were doing.

How many stores does Sam Ash have now? We just opened up our 47th location in Jacksonville, Florida. It’s a 16,000-square-foot beauty with all of the benefits and features of all Sam Ash Music Stores.

Your grandfather started the business. Can you talk about his business plan? Goals? Do you think he would be pleased with the company today? My grandfather wasn’t much of a business man and didn’t have a lot of goals except to see that his bills were paid on time even in the Depression. It was my father and Uncle Paul that had the vision to become a chain. It was my brothers and I and a few very trusted members of our team that took it the rest of the way.

If you attend a wedding or a bar mitzvah these days, you hear a lot of electronic music, operated by a DJ. You don’t see a lot of instruments, and I love instruments. How has this affected your business? DJ is a rather small part of the overall music business. It is a segment of our live sound business. Yes, it is very popular in the bar mitzvah/wedding circuit, but in the overall scheme of things musical instruments still dominate. I personally love a band!

When I go into a Sam Ash store, I see lots and lots of guitars. Are these your biggest selling items? We sell a lot guitars, clearly one of our biggest segments of instruments. Right now we are seeing an explosion in the sale of acoustic guitars and ukuleles — yes ukuleles! They are huge. We sell more ukuleles in one month than we did in a whole year a decade ago. Everyone loves them.

What’s the next big seller? Technology. Keyboards and recording microphones.

When I went to school back in the Dark Ages, every kid was required to play an instrument. We all went to Sam Ash to pick out our instruments. Is this still the case today? Today we have lesson centers in a majority of our stores and will probably have taught about 110,000 lessons last year. That is my fastest-growing segment. On a Saturday morning, the stores are still packed with families buying or renting all kinds of instruments. It’s still a fun visit.

Where do you see the company going in 10 years? I have two sons in the business, Ben and Max, and my brother Richard has two, Adam and Derek. I want a business that they can run together for a long time as well. They have the capabilities to bring the company into the future as a team. They work very well together.