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James Bernstein

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Long Island Federation of Labor President John Durso Is Sticking With The Union

John Durso has been president of the Long Island Federation of Labor since 2005.

John Durso got into the labor movement when he joined Waldbaum’s supermarket as a deli clerk in 1970. He is now president of Local 338, which represents 16,000 employees at supermarkets, drug stores, group homes, and other locations. He is also president of the Long Island Federation of Labor, which has 250,000 members. Durso is a presence just about anywhere on Long Island. He is a member of the Long Island Association, the Long Island Regional Economic Development Council, the Rauch Foundation and the United Way of Long Island.

What challenges does labor face in 2020? One of the most significant is the anti-worker rulings that have come down from the National Labor Relations Board. These will have a detrimental effect upon all unions in their ability to organize new workers. Another is the direction in which our country is headed. We need to stop the attack on workers and the environment. We need to roll back the tax breaks for the very rich and instead invest in child care, the protection of voter rights, and to protecting America’s pension system.

How do you plan to deal with these challenges? Just like we did with the Janus decision and the New York State Constitutional Convention. Janus was meant to hurt us. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that public sector employees had the right not to pay union dues. But in New York, we educated those employees and told them about the value of a strong union contract. In 2017, New York voters rejected a Constitutional Convention. We talked then about the lost rights and benefits that might result from a full-scale overhaul of the state’s constitution.

What role will labor on Long Island play in the 2020 elections? We expect Long Island and the Long Island labor movement to play a major role in this coming election cycle. We are lucky to have two great partners in Senators Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand and Tom Suozzi has stepped up in Congress, but with Congressional District 2 an open seat and Congressional District 1 in which we have nothing more than a Trump echo, we need to take those two seats and turn them into pro-worker seats.

What should the new president do for labor in 2021? America’s workers need to know that their pensions are secure, and that Corporate America is not going to be allowed to destroy defined benefit plans. We need a Labor Department and an NLRB that is labor friendly, not one that is looking to harm the labor movement. We need to strengthen the Affordable Care Act. It has done many good things for millions of Americans and now is the time to improve upon it.  

Why did you support legislation legalizing marijuana in New York State? As the labor union currently representing hundreds of workers in the New York medical cannabis industry, including here on Long Island, we have a unique perspective of why legalization of adult-use cannabis makes sense. It creates economic opportunities. The jobs in the medical cannabis industry are good jobs. They’re mostly full time and our contracts have set an industry standard in New York with guaranteed wage increases, health care coverage, and retirement benefits.

Union membership has declined over the last 20 years. How can this trend be reversed? In New York, labor is strong. We are the second highest in percentage of labor union members, second only to Hawaii. But still we need strong labor law reforms. Over 60 percent of workers who are not in a union want to be and we need to change the law to make it easier, not harder, to join a union. We need to look at new trends in our economy and be able to address the needs of the workers in those various industries.

How did you get involved in the labor movement? I began my career as a deli clerk for Waldbaum’s, in 1970, where I met Manny Laub, who was the union rep. He signed me into the union, and we began a friendship that lasted for the rest of his life. In 1984, Manny, who had become the president of our union, Local 338, asked me to join the 338 staff. Fifteen years later, I became the president of Local 338 and in 2005 I became the president of The Long Island Federation of Labor [AFL-CIO]. 

Do you plan to remain in your present position in the near term? I love the work that I do so I have no plans to retire anytime soon. I feel like I’m still in my prime. The day I get up and don’t feel like going to work, then it’s time to go.

Long Island’s Senior Housing Developers Eye Future Needs

A rendering of the new assisted-living community in Mount Sinai.

Jan Burman, president of the Engel Burman Group, the largest developer of assisted living communities on Long Island, stunned a business group recently with an announcement that the Jericho-based company will be looking elsewhere in the country to build new facilities.

There are a combination of factors for the decision. They include a cutoff of new natural gas supplies, the possibility of a New York State prevailing wage law, rent control, high property and other taxes and, what surprised many: saturation in the assisted living industry on the Island — for now at least.

“We basically said that, at some point, there will be too many of these places on Long Island,” Burman said after delivering the same news to the Commercial Industrial Brokers Society of Long Island. “I’m not sure Long Island can hold any more at this time.” 

But Burman did not rule out building more such facilities in years to come.

Engel Burman operates 14 Bristal Assisted Living communities on LI, with one more coming in Mount Sinai, and five others in Westchester and New Jersey. Another is to be built in Manhattan. Burman said the company is looking to build its future upscale Bristal facilities in South Florida.

Other companies in the assisted living industry agree that, at present, the Island is just about filled to capacity.

The conclusion the operators have come to is yet another signal that Long Island, home to America’s first suburb and a mecca for young families in the post-World War II boom, is aging rapidly.

And the need for more such facilities on LI will grow in years to come, says Claire Bukzin-Hakim, executive vice president of the Empire State Association of Assisted Living, which represents operators. She said the facilities have a special appeal.

“It’s a structured environment,” Bukzin-Hakim says. “Every day, you can meet a new friend.”

According to the independent, nonprofit Center For an Urban Future, Long Island’s older adult population increased by 27.9 percent during the past decade, from 379,242 residents aged 65 and over in 2007 to 484,862 in 2017. The Island’s overall population increased by 3.7 percent (from 2,760,505 to 2,862,310) and the under-65 population decreased by 0.1 percent (from 2,381,263 to 2,377,448).

Developers have taken advantage of the boom. Sunrise Senior Living, based in Northern Virginia, operates 10 assisted living communities on the Island, with another, in Huntington, scheduled to open in January.

Several others are in Sunrise’s planning stages on the Island. Altogether, the company operated 329 such facilities in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. Sunrise built the nation’s first assisted living community, 36 years ago, in Virginia.

“There is a growing need for these facilities” as the U.S population ages, says Philip Kroskin, Sunrise’s senior vice president for real estate. 

People 65 to 74 were the largest among three age groups in the U.S., numbering 28.7 million, of the 329.45 million people in the country. Some of those 65 to 74 often no longer have a need for a private home. Those not in need of medical care seek assisted living communities, which provide dining rooms and chances for socializing. At nursing homes, the main thrust is clinical care, while at assisted living communities, the focus is on socialization.

Beth Mace, chief economist and director of outreach for the National Investment Center for Senior Housing & Care, a nonprofit in Annapolis, Md., said the occupancy rates for assisted living facilities on Long Island are near capacity. Occupancy rates in Nassau and Suffolk this year are 89.5 percent.

More facilities are being built, but the real growth is expected to come in 2030, when the last of the large baby boom generation (born 1946 to 1964) reaches their mid-60s.

But the red flags are already being raised, experts say. With wages stagnant now for years, and the number of companies offering pensions declining, the question is how many seniors in the future will be able to afford to live in assisted living communities, which can cost thousands of dollars per month, depending on the facility.

Burman says he is convinced plenty of seniors will be choosing assisted living in the future, despite costs, because there are not many alternatives.

“There’s no question we’re going to have a lot of takers,” Burman says.

 

 

All Star Limo President and CEO Jim Powers: Going The Distance

All Star Limo President and CEO Jim Powers.

Thirty-five years ago, Jim Powers was studying and working his way through college, not entirely sure what he wanted to do. Life decided for him. The limo company he worked for part time closed, and he decided to lease a limo and become his own boss. College took a back seat for a time, although he eventually graduated from Nassau Community College. Powers was born in the Bronx and moved as a child with his family to Lindenhurst. He now lives with his wife and three children in East Islip. 

How did your business get started? In 1984 I was working part time for a limousine company and putting myself through college. It was the perfect job because while waiting for my clients, I could study. Like any business, you only reap the awards for the time and effort you put into it. After a year, the company I worked for decided to close. So I decided to go on my own and lease a limousine. I contacted all the people I serviced to let them know I was still available to chauffeur them. Not only did I drive, but I answered phones, took reservations, cleaned and maintained the vehicle. Within six months I had so many bookings I had to buy another vehicle. I was on my way. College was put on hold.

What’s the size of your company today? I own over 106 different types of vehicles, from sedans, SUVs, limousines, sprinters, buses, and vintage cars. We now have over 135 employees both full and part time. Our facility is 40,000 square feet, with a commercial car wash, detail station with sanitizers, a full-time mechanic, and around-the-clock reservation and dispatch departments.

What are some of the biggest challenges you face? The biggest challenge in this business is road construction and traffic, especially in Manhattan and the ongoing craziness at LaGuardia Airport. On any given day it can take you over an hour to connect with your client at LaGuardia due to the expansion and construction at that airport.

High-school kids use limos often at prom time. Do you consider it your responsibility to see that the kids don’t drink or use drugs? It is 100 percent the transportation company’s responsibility. We ensure the parents that their children will return back home in the same condition they started out. In our buses we always provide a host or hostess that will provide soft drinks and make sure there are no adult beverages or smoking on the bus. Also, the parent enters into a contract stating the rules and regulations and each promgoer signs a pledge stating they understand that there is zero tolerance for any alcohol or drug use. If there is any drug or alcohol involved at any time, we call the parents and ask them to pick them up immediately.

Do you feel your industry is too heavily regulated? There are some app-based companies that aren’t regulated so without the rules and regulations it’s like legal hitchhiking. I’m all for regulations as long as it’s an even playing field. When you contract through All Star Limousine every chauffeur is background checked both criminally and through the DMV. We also have every employee randomly drug tested.

Has the competition become more stiff over the years? The competition has always been fierce in this business, and I have seen many competitors come and go but then there’s a new company always popping up. We turn over our vehicles every 36 months, so they always have new vehicles and a friendly and competent staff.

How do you keep fuel and other costs down? Insurance is one of the largest costs we have. We put all our drivers through rigorous safety programs and instill safety into our drivers. Also, each vehicle has a DriveCam camera, so there is no question at all whose fault an accident is. So many times, that camera was a godsend when the driver of the other car was at fault but said it was ours. Because we use so much fuel, we shopped around the different stations in our area and we get a discounted rate because of volume.

What keeps you up at night? All Star Limousine runs a truly 24-hour business. So, everything we have in the day from the dispatchers, management, car detailers, etc. mirrors itself in the night. I am so confident with my team that I never have to worry. It’s the people that you surround yourself with that make it all possible.

3 New Long Island Companies To Watch in 2020

L. to R.: Benjamin Dynkin of Atlas Cybersecurity, Lisa Scully os Locust Valley Bookstore, and Frank Bilello of Noble Savage Brewing Company.

Each year, small businesses on Long Island face tremendous challenges to remain not only competitive but alive. We recently looked at three such companies as they head into a new year, still beset by challenges, but hoping the wind is now at their backs. 

Noble Savage Brewing Company, 27 Glen St., Glen Cove 

How many craft breweries can Long Island, or the nation for that matter, support? There are now 47 on Long Island, according to a local trade association, up from maybe nine a few years ago, and more than 7,000 nationwide, according to the Brewers Association in Colorado. And more are coming.

One of them, Noble Savage Brewing Company, opened in August in downtown Glen Cove, and is looking forward to its first full year in business in 2020, said the 32-year-old owner, Frank Bilello, of Sea Cliff. 

He understands the risks of a startup, and the growing competition. In fact, another, and much larger, craft brewer, Garvies Point Craft Brewery, is only a few blocks from his business.

But, says Bilello, “Everything is going local. People want to go to their local brewery.”

Bilello is part of a reviving Glen Cove. Two giant condo apartment buildings are under construction, one downtown and the other at Garvies Point, bringing in thousands of new residents.

The brewmaster holds a masters in environment policy from the University of Bristol, England. He worked at the Oyster Bay Brewing Company for a year, beginning in 2015, as an intern, and was promoted to working on the brew deck.

He got some personal loans and a grant from PSEG, through a utility program to fill underutilized buildings. Bilello took over a 2,667-square-foot former dentist’s office and tore the place apart, putting in a bar and ripping out rotting layers of ceiling and old wall panels. The place now has a comfortable, rustic look.

Bilello has come up with some of his favorite brews, but also serves more traditional brews, such as brown and red ales. He said he hopes the business will be profitable in about a year.

Can he make it? Yes, he answers immediately, “by sheer will.”

Locust Valley Bookstore, 8 Birch Hill Rd., Locust Valley

Lisa Scully was an editor of a community weekly on the North Shore and worked on the financial side of Forbes magazine and Institutional Investor. But her heart was always in books.

So, when she and her husband, David, were living in Manhattan and she was between jobs, Scully asked the owner of a bookshop in Locust Valley for a part-time job. The woman said she was not looking for an employee, but for a buyer for her store, Forest Books.

Scully rushed home to discuss the prospect with her husband, who works in the financial world. He not only liked the idea, but gave her a list of “must-have” books for the shop. Scully purchased a stack of books from Forest Books, and quickly relocated to the main drag in Locust Valley. Locust Valley Bookstore is entering its third year in business.

“I said to myself, Who in their right mind would buy a bookstore in this environment?” Scully says, standing behind the counter in her cozy, 650-square-foot shop. She not only faced start-up costs, but the biggest challenge a small, independent merchant faces these days: Amazon.

“But I wasn’t scared,” Scully says. “I really believed in it. I believe if you love something enough, you can sell it.”

Scully says her shop is profitable, and she has attracted not only foot traffic, but famous authors. Nelson DeMille signed more than 200 books at her store in early November. Jenna Bush Hager is scheduled to do the same. 

Scully now has 4,000 books on the shelves. Independent bookstores are a rarity these days. There are only a handful on Long Island, including Book Revue in Huntington and the Dolphin Bookshop & Café in Port Washington.

Scully has no grand plans for 2020, just to continue what she has been doing.  

“It excites me to get up every morning to come to the bookstore and serve customers,” she says.

Atlas Cybersecurity, 107 Northern Blvd., Great Neck

Benjamin Dynkin, a 25-year-old whose lawyerly suits, glasses, and full build make him look every bit the scholarly attorney he studied to be, actually works these days as a hunter – of cyberthieves.

He is co-founder and chief executive of Atlas Cybersecurity, which has just finished its first year of business seeking out bandits on the internet who steal money and corporate secrets and ruin reputations. He and his brother, Barry, 29, put together a team, including other family members, who travel constantly to partner with companies that need security for their computer operations.

“Our first partner came three weeks after we launched our business,” Dynkin says. “We catch advanced, persistent threats. There are groups of well-funded, well-organized cyberthieves who engage in sustained campaigns against companies.”

His dozen employees work around the clock, and in 2020, he plans to double in size, as the bad guys become more sophisticated and troublesome.

“Our business is going to be increasingly important,” Dynkin says.

Long Island’s Demand for Skilled Workers Continues in 2020

By almost any measure, CPI Aerostructures Inc., an airplane-parts manufacturer in Brentwood, is a healthy company. 

For the full year 2017, sales were a solid $81.3 million and the company earned $5.8 million, up from $3.6 million the year prior. In mid-October, CPI announced a new $48 million contract from Boeing to build parts for the Air Force’s A-10 combat plane.

So why are CPI executives worried? They find it hard to remember a time when it was more difficult to find qualified employees. For the first time in its nearly 40-year history, CPI recently was forced to hold a job fair, yielding mediocre results.

“We are short maybe 10 to 15 people,” says Vincent Palazzolo, CPI’s chief financial officer. 

With the new Boeing contract, Palazzolo says, CPI will need another 10 to 15 more people to add to its approximately 300-member workforce. CPI is hardly unique among manufacturing companies on Long Island, who are finding the job market now belongs to job seekers. The 2020 outlook for such employers, Palazzolo said, is gloomy.

“I don’t see much changing in the next 18 months,” he says.

Most employment experts agree.

“I’ve been doing this for 15 years,” says Aron Zweback, owner and strategic partner at Pride Staff in Melville. “I’ve never seen it this tight. “So, if you’re good, there’s three or four quality jobs out there for you.”

The tight market is hardly limited to aerospace or manufacturing.

“At every level, from CEO to the loading dock, there’s a huge demand for labor,” Zweback says.

According to labor market experts, the reasons are manifold: LI’s unemployment rate is at historic lows, of about 3.9 percent; many parents of high-school-aged children have not forgotten the trauma they felt at the catastrophic job losses in the manufacturing industry in the 1980s and ’90s, and are reluctant to encourage their kids to train for such jobs; colleges and universities tend to promote high-tech computer and software courses, not classes in mechanical work.

And, another key factor, says Kirk Kordeleski, former president and CEO of Bethpage Federal Credit Union and an ex-chairman of the Long Island Association: The Island and much of the country are undergoing a sea change in the jobs field.

“We’re in the ‘gig’ economy,” Kordeleski says.

Many young people have found that two or even three part-time jobs, or projects, are a better fit for them than full-time employment with one company. Kordeleski himself had one basic job during his business career. Now, he has three consulting positions, a change in lifestyle he has come to appreciate.

“We certainly have a lot of companies complaining about the lack of employees to fill positions,” says Shital Patel, principal economist and labor market analyst for the New York State Labor Department in Hicksville.

Of course, a lot depends on the industry. The state Labor Department’s 10-year projection forecasts plenty of job opportunities in industries such as healthcare, business and financial services, advertising and marketing, at on-line retailing companies, and in technology. But for those with degrees in the humanities, positions in higher education, for example, will continue to be difficult to find in 2020.

Dory Agazarian of Glen Head, who holds a doctorate in Modern European History, has found this out the hard way. Sitting in a Starbucks with her laptop open to a jobs site, Agazarian says she has been looking for months without much luck. According to data compiled by the American Historical Association, there were only 57 openings nationwide in 2018 for full-time college-level European History teachers.

“The situation is dire, as far as these kind of jobs go,” says Agazarian, who is “approaching middle age,” and describes herself as angry. “I’m a very good teacher and a scholar. But I do not feel optimistic about getting an academic job.”

But Odette Peralta, 23, of Wantagh, says she got two jobs almost immediately after graduating Molloy College last year. She worked a few months for a small Long Island marketing and public relations firm, and recently switched to the Rockville Centre School District, where she is a digital marketing specialist.

“I was always optimistic about getting a job,” says Peralta, who studied new media. 

The difficulty in finding qualified workers is forcing many in the manufacturing sector to offer flexible work schedules, bonuses, and other incentives, says Anne Shybunko-Moore, chief executive officer of GSE Dynamics Inc., a defense contractor in Hauppauge.

“I have six or seven jobs that need to be filled now,” says Shybunko-Moore, whose company employees about 75 people. She is among those who believe the perception of manufacturing jobs needs to change.

“There continues to be a disconnect with the way Long Island looks at manufacturing jobs,” she says. “There’s a perception they are low-level, low-skilled jobs. A lot of people don’t understand these are high-skilled positions.”

Agazarian may join the gig economy, she says. “Maybe I should tutor and give music lessons. I’m a classically trained singer.”

Rev. Calvin O. Butts Reflects On His Two Decades Leading SUNY Old Westbury

SUNY College at Old Westbury President Rev. Calvin Butts is retiring after 20 years.

The Rev. Calvin O. Butts is the longest-serving president in the history of SUNY Old Westbury. After 20 years, he will retire in late January 2020. Since Butts has been president, enrollment has soared 56 percent to about 5,077. The faculty has grown to more than 170, from 113. He has also overseen the college’s investment of approximately $150 million in capital projects, including the introduction of cutting-edge technologies on campus and the completion of five new residence halls, a Student Union, and a 147,000 square-foot academic building. He is also the pastor at the nationally renowned Abyssinian Baptist Church in Manhattan. Butts is known for his lifelong advocacy for social justice and civil rights. Old Westbury is one of the most diverse colleges in the SUNY system.

Why have you chosen to retire? It’s time. You’ve got to make way for younger people, people with more energy. The average shelf life for a college president is six years. I’ve had 20 years.

You hired quite a number of new faculty members during your tenure, correct? Yes. I could not have achieved what I did had it not been for that faculty. One young man helped build the new Academic Center. There has not only been an increase in the number of faculty members, but in their diversity too.

Old Westbury is considered one of the most diverse of the SUNY colleges. That must make you proud. Yes, but it’s all much more than diversity that counts. I hate talking about race. I don’t believe in race. It’s a false construct. A person ought to be judged on character, not race.

When you arrived 20 years ago, what had to be done? We needed to work on the infrastructure. I had a maintenance guy who said he didn’t know how to shut off the lights. I saw that we also had to build trust between the faculty and the administration. We had to settle the student body down. We had, from time to time, students fighting each other.

What do you feel are significant accomplishments? Well, the college is as strong as it’s ever been. Bob McMillan (a former board chairman) helped me a great deal. The faculty had to be respected. We addressed that. They have a voice now on what happens on campus. We also created a sense of civility and respect between the faculty, the staff and the students. Things were pretty tense when I came.

How did you bring about this civility? My predecessor at Abyssinian Baptist Church, Samuel DeWitt Proctor, had also been president at two colleges. He said to me, “Butts, it’s all about the tone you set. You have to set the right tone.” It’s about your personality and your faith in God. It’s learning to listen to people and not thinking everybody is your enemy.

What has disappointed you most in your time here? We raised millions of dollars from government. Gov. George Pataki gave us a lot of help. But it wasn’t the same with the  private-fund raising. Hofstra, Adelphi, they were always way ahead of us. This is an area that needs strengthening. We provide support to a lot of poor students. We need more space, new faculty. I will work on all that until I leave.

Has your faith played a role in how you governed this college? Yes. Corinthians 13 says “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast.” I’ve been angry at people, but I knew I had to calm down. I love this institution. It’s transformed me in many ways. Its mission is close to my heart. I feel this is something I was called to do.

How did you manage to run the college and the church? By the grace of God. I went back and forth from the city to here. On a Sunday, after preaching two sermons, I would drive to New Haven. Then I got back in my car and drove to Stratford. I finished there and drove to Brooklyn and preached there. I did that quite a bit. Then Monday morning, I was at my desk here.

What are your plans for the future? I’m still engaged with the church. I plan to teach here as a professor of American Studies this coming fall. And, the church leaders changed the church’s constitution. It now allows me to remain there until I’m 75.

Cloudy Forecast For Retail Sector Ahead of Black Friday

A cloud of economic uncertainty hangs over the retail sector ahead of Black Friday’s start of the holiday shopping season. (Getty Images)

By most reasonable measures, this should be a healthy shopping season for retailers. 

Unemployment remains low. The stock market, despite its occasional jitters, is still high. Wages have increased, and consumer confidence is strong. But consumers, stock markets, and the overall economy are not always reasonable.

While all the key indicators may be in a go mode, there are sufficient signs of warning that keep retailers, economists, and many consumers on alert. Burt Flickinger III, managing director of Strategic Resource Group, marketing consultants in New York, is predicting a 3.4 percent gain in retail spending for this upcoming holiday season, only fractionally higher than last year’s outlay by shoppers.

“We have a mixed picture,” Flickinger says.

The traditional retailers, such as Macy’s, the Gap, and Bloomingdale’s, will continue to be severely buffeted by discounters Walmart and Costco, as well as by Amazon, as they have been for years, he says. But an array of what he calls “new concept” stores are set to fare well. These are stores that cater to personal fitness, health and beauty, and specialty food items.

Some examples:

Rent the Runway, an online service started in 2009 by two young New York women, provides designer dresses and accessory rentals. The clothing and other items are usually worn overnight and are shipped back the next day. 

“This concept is not going to take over shopping, but it’s been very successful and will continue to be as shoppers become more accustomed with a rent-a-world society,” says Steven Greenberg, president of Five Towns-based The Greenberg Group, which follows retail trends. 

Drybar, a chain of salons providing hairstyling services, such as blowouts, for women, at what are called lower prices than older outlets. Blue Apron is a food retailer based in New York City that provides its customers with pre-measured food and recipes each week. Meals, the company says, cost just under $120 for two people, for three recipes per week.

But the traditional retailers are fighting back, making better use of physical space, experimenting with technology, and dreaming up new customer services. 

Macy’s, for example, has launched its The Market @ Macy’s, earlier this year. The concept allows pop-up shops at Macy’s stores in New York and other cities, allowing brands normally available online to occupy space in a big retail store. 

“Pop-up and new store concepts are permanently part of the sales and marketing strategies of retailers and brands,” Michelle Grant, head of retailing for Euromonitor International, told the trade publication Retail Drive.

John Rizzo, chief economist for the Long Island Association, the region’s largest business and civic organization, emphatically states that this holiday season will be a strong one, and that there is only a gnawing a perception that the economy may be sliding and that the market may take a nosedive. He says neither is likely.

“I think we’ll have a reasonably strong season,” Rizzo says. “Business conditions are solid.”

Bernice Fehringer, owner of Chocolate Works, in the tony Stony Brook Village shopping center, agrees. 

“We’re expecting a very good holiday season,” Fehringer says, adding that the store has recently begun offering a new birthday package that is popular with shoppers. “We’re already very busy with holiday orders.”

Some consumers are wary. Melissa Delano, 35, a substitute teacher and model who lives in Glen Cove, says she typically spends about $1,000 on holiday gifts. This year, she says, may be different because she has had higher medical bills. 

“Maybe I’ll spend a little less,” Delano says.  

To be sure, the stock market shivers with each mention by President Donald Trump of trade wars against China. The bond market has been gloomy, taking a pessimistic view of the long-term prospects for economic growth. 

But unemployment on Long Island remains at more than 20-year lows, at about 3.6 percent. Private sector jobs on the Island increased over the year by 6,100, or 1.5 percent (the state’s over-the-year private sector grew 1.3 percent), and hiring in the leisure and hospitality sector hit record highs, also in the middle of this year. But the uncertainty persists. 

“Business activity continued to expand, but at a slower pace than in previous months,” the usually upbeat Rizzo wrote in his most recent economic report for LIA. “The overall economy still appears to be robust, but is showing signs of weakening. Is growing uncertainty a cause of this apparent slowdown?”

Former Nassau Bar Association President Elena Karabatos: Fighting For Justice

Elena Karabatos is the immediate past president of the Nassau County Bar Association and senior partner of Schissel Ostrow Karabatos.

Elena Karabatos has been a leader of Long Island’s legal profession for decades, including a stint as president of the Nassau County Bar Association. She is the group’s immediate past president and is a senior partner at the Garden City law firm of Schissel Ostrow Karabatos, where she practices  matrimonial and family law. She was selected as one of New York’s “Super Lawyers” in the area of family law.

What is the purpose of the Nassau Bar Association? I view the Nassau Bar Association as a very special place, not only for its members, but also for the community as a whole. It is a place that provides legal professionals with the tools to build and grow their careers, shape the future of the legal profession, and provide access to justice to the community through a variety of programs. 

What significant changes have you made as president? Some of my most significant changes were expanding the Bar’s diversity and inclusion initiative, increasing membership, securing the financial stability throughout the organization and expanding our community outreach to address the legal issues facing Nassau County residents. We held mortgage foreclosure programs and open house clinics, where our members volunteered their time to provide free legal advice to those in need. We also held free community education seminars on legal issues of concern to the general public, including, but not limited to, DWI laws, real estate taxes, elder law, workplace issues, housing, family and matrimonial law, discrimination, identity theft, special education, and home improvement contracts.

What are the biggest challenges for the Bar going forward? Keeping young lawyers engaged and actively involved in the Bar. It is crucial to our profession and to our Bar Association to encourage and support the next generation of lawyers.

The Bar rates candidates for judgeships and I believe this information is available to the public. But do you think the public is aware how these decisions are made? The NCBA publicizes the results before each election. We want to assure the public that the findings regarding the qualifications for each candidate are nonpolitical, and we seek input from our membership at large in achieving that goal.

I believe the general perception is that the Bar Association, any Bar association, is a stuffy, insulated club made up of good old boys who knock back a few drinks after a day in court. Do you agree with this perception? Not at all. The legal profession as a whole has and continues to become more inclusive, and the NCBA consists of a diverse group of nearly 5,000 legal professionals, both men and women. We also launched the LGBTQ Committee, which marched in the Annual Long Island Pride Parade for the first time this year.

What do you see as the Nassau Bar’s most significant accomplishment during your term? Furthering our diversity and inclusion initiative has been one of the most significant accomplishments, and one that I am particularly proud of. 

What made you choose law as a profession? I have always viewed the legal profession as an honorable profession that truly helps people and gives them a voice when they cannot advocate for themselves. 

You practice family law. Do you feel the divorce laws in New York State are fair to all parties? One of the wonderful things about the law, and particularly in the matrimonial field, is that the law is always evolving. Through case law and legislation, our courts and legislators are constantly trying to achieve fairness to all. I am fortunate to serve on various committees throughout the state that work on exciting projects regarding new legislation and helping to reform matrimonial law, which is something I am very passionate about.

Long Island Cyber-Security Pros Fight Growing Threat of Hackers

Cyber security pros are combating the ever-growing hacker threat. (Getty Images)

The secretary at a Long Island bank was pleased with what she had just done. 

She had received what she thought was an email from her boss, asking that she transfer $28,000 to a certain account. When the boss passed her desk an hour later, she told him she had made the transfer. 

“He [the boss] turned purple and green,” recalls Ed Eisenstein, once Nassau’s County’s chief information officer and now a computer consultant in Farmingdale.

The boss, Eisenstein says, had given no such order. His email had been hacked, changed by one letter that slipped by the secretary. The money was gone.

“It all happened so fast,” Eisenstein says. “And it happens just about every single day now. It’s rampant.”

He is talking about the hacking of computers at companies across LI and the nation, which began about a dozen years ago on a relatively small scale, and has in the last few years mushroomed, and spread to ransomware — the shutting down of computer systems at municipalities and school districts. Money must be paid before they are turned back on again.

“To me,” Eisenstein says, “the hacking problem is a war against the American public.”

How bad is the problem? A recent report from the National Initiative for Cybersecurity Education at the U.S. Department of Commerce says there are now openings for 313,735 people to detect and defeat hackers. By 2022, that number will soar to 1.8 million, according to a 2017 Global Information Security Workforce Study.

Despite the growing need, according to industry insiders, there are only about six companies on the Island fully engaged in anti-cyber hacking. These are companies that have developed their own software devices to deal with increasingly complex hacking by nations such as Russia, China, Syria, and North Korea, carried out by professional cybergangs based in this country and around the world and young people who like to see how far they can get breaking into a computer system.

Atlas Cybersecurity in Great Neck is one of those companies, co-founded in 2017 by Benjamin Dynkin, a lawyer, and his brother, Barry, a legal researcher.

The Atlas office on the fourth floor of a nondescript building on Northern Boulevard is staffed 24/7 by a team of about a dozen experts who monitor the computer systems of the company’s mostly midsized clients for “suspicious activity,” Benjamin Dynkin, 25, says. Some of his team members spent a week aboard a client’s boat in the Atlantic Ocean. They detected that some of the boat’s 30 computers were under attack by hackers. They informed the client and secured the systems. The point, Dynkin says, is that cyber hackers know no boundaries, on land or on sea.

“The problems are getting worse because we are all becoming more connected,” says Dynkin, explaining that the more devices that are linked to one another — like a refrigerator to a home computer system — the greater the chance of crashes because of overloads of info, and the more openings for hackers to crack into systems.

The recent major hacks in the U.S. are well known: They include the city of Baltimore, 22 small towns across Texas, big banks, and credit card companies. A major change, industry experts say, is the demand for money, known as ransomware.

On Long Island, some of the better-known targets: The Rockville Centre School District paid almost $100,000 to have its data put back online. The district said it had no choice but to pay.

The Mineola Union Free School District was also hacked, but did not pay ransom, as it was able to restore files from backups.

Three Commack High School students were arrested after they allegedly broke into the school’s system and changed students’ grades and schedules.

“There’s just not enough companies on Long Island or elsewhere to mitigate the attacks,” says Lee Noriega, a co-founder of Skout Cybersecurity in Melville, a company formed in 2013. Noriega said many small businesses feel they are not profitable enough to be hacked. But, he said, 60 percent of all cyberattacks in the U.S. are against small and midsized businesses.

The New York Institute of Technology in Old Westbury is one of only three schools in the region offering courses in anti-hacking, says Dr. Michael Nizich, director of NYIT’s Entrepreneurship and Technology Innovation Center. NYIT, Pace University and NYU are officially certified by the National Security Agency and the Homeland Security Department to offer such courses. The three are among some 220 across the country also similarly certified.

More companies and qualified people will be moving into the field in the next few years, says Nizich, who is optimistic about an eventual solution.  He uses an example of gas lights in the 1800s. There were not enough people to light the gas lamps on the streets, he says. Ultimately, along came the light bulb. 

“There’s a clear path of history that says this doesn’t go on forever,” Nizich says.

Raj Technologies CEO Raj Mehta: The Problem Solver

Raj Mehta is CEO of Plainview-based Raj Technologies, formerly known as Infosys International.

When he came to the United States from India in 1978, Raj Mehta knew he had to make money, so he took a minimum-wage job in the Washington, D.C. suburbs before earning a computer science degree from the University of Maryland. He would soon start his own company, Infosys International in Plainview, now Raj Technologies, with just a single computer and a determination to succeed.

Your company was known as Infosys International for some 30 years. Now it’s Raj Technologies Inc. What happened? We had to reach a settlement with a big company, Infosystems of India. We had to change our name. There was no way we could fight a $12 billion company.

Was the name change difficult for you? It was definitely a lot of work. People know who we are. We have contracts with federal and state governments. I have worked hard for over 30 years and I’ve been using this name all of that time. It’s going to take some people time to adjust. All of our contracts had to be renamed, with the new name. But I also like Raj Technologies.

Why did this big company do this now? We asked this question. They said, “So what? We came after you when we did.”

What does Raj Technologies actually do? We are an information-technology company and we work primarily in the public sector and for Fortune 500 companies. What we do all depends on what the client wants. They may want to change their finance systems, or their HR systems. This means they have to change their software. So we go out and do an analysis. We implement the solutions they want. 

Is the company profitable? We are a privately held company so we don’t disclose those figures. But we are a healthy company with an excellent reputation.

When did you come to this country? In 1978, from India. I first went to Maryland. I knew I had to make money so I got a job as an accounting clerk in Maryland. I was making minimum wage, about $5 an hour.

What happened next? I went to the University of Maryland and studied computer science. I already had two bachelor’s degrees in India. After I graduated Maryland, I joined Sperry Corp. in Virginia, working on NASA programs. I worked on a lot of different government programs, including for the U.S. Air Force. I went out and made the customer happy.

How was the business started? I started the business in 1986. I had four years of savings. If I didn’t make money for four years, it wouldn’t have mattered.

How much were start-up costs? I just had to buy a computer for myself. I spent my time going out getting clients. At that time, if somebody offered me $500 I would do their job. You need to grow. You want to establish yourself. Money isn’t important. I would just say, “Give me the work.”

When did the company start to grow? I would say in the early 1990s. Until then, I had only one or two people. [Business reports say the company now has 65 employees.] But we remain basically a small, minority-owned company.

Are you finding it hard to hire qualified people in this strong economy? It is always hard to find the right people to match your culture. We are very family oriented here. We don’t have set things for people to do. Nobody says, “That’s not my job.” When we hire people, we don’t expect them to know everything. But we do expect them to find the answer to things.

You operate a television production studio that broadcasts your own show. Why? I started this six years ago. It’s a public service from me. I help a lot of people. I was thinking, “How can I help more people?” By having my own show I can give people knowledge. I interview government officials, political figures. I once interviewed a cardiac surgeon. He described the operating room. That was important for people to know.

What keeps you up at night? I think of whatever happened that day. I say, “Okay, this or that happened. Let’s move on.” Then I sleep well.