Warren Strugatch

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BNB Bank CEO Kevin O’Connor: Job Offer Came as Surprise

Kevin O'Connor has been CEO of BNB Bank for a decade (Photo by Bob Giglione).

Kevin O’Connor became president and chief executive of Bridge Bancorp and its subsidiary Bridgehampton National Bank, now BNB Bank, in January 2008 after 20 years at North Fork Bank, where he rose to become treasurer. A Brooklyn native, O’Connor moved to Farmingville with his family and attended school there. After getting his associate’s degree at Suffolk County Community College, he completed his bachelor’s degree in Accounting from Adelphi University. He is a past president and advisory board member of Suffolk County Council of the Boy Scouts of America and serves on the American Red Cross’ Long Island Board of Directors. He has three sons and resides in Great River. Here are excerpts of our conversation:

Warren Strugatch: Our parents are our first influencers. How did yours influence you?

Kevin O’Connor: My father, Jack, was a New York City cop. My mother, Carole, stayed home. We lived in Brooklyn and Queens, then moved to Suffolk. When I was in high school I had a landscaping business and worked at Genovese Drugs. When I worked at Genovese, my dad would take my truck on his days off and take the kids working for me out to mow lawns. When I was in college, I thought of dropping out to chase the easier dollar. We fought many times during college to keep me from giving up. I’m glad he won those arguments, although I’m sorry he didn’t live to see me graduate.

WS: What did those jobs teach you?

KO: I learned about scheduling, dealing with customers, and managing people. I learned that if you committed yourself to do something for somebody you had to get it done regardless of the weather, your truck breaking down or someone not showing up for work.

WS: What did you learn from your supervisors?

KO: At Genovese Drugs, the store manager was Larry Onufrak. He saw early on that I could be a shift supervisor. Frank Del’Aglio was a senior manager at Pete Marwick, now KPMG, when I worked there right out of college. He went to North Fork in 1987 and became CFO under John Kanas. I joined him and that’s where I spent the next 20 years.

WS: John Kanas is a banking legend. What was he like to work with?

KO: John was very inspirational. You were really part of a team. He had a vision. He was going to get there and you would follow him because you wanted to be where he was. He was demanding but fair. John allowed you to take chances and make mistakes. He was as respectful to entry-level employees as he was to the most senior. Many of the things I deal with today I first dealt with at North Fork.

WS: Long Island banking has changed enormously over the past generation.

KO: It has. We don’t have the Grummans and Fairchilds here anymore, but there is still manufacturing and distribution. The guys here now may not make the whole plane but they make the forward struts or pieces of the nose cone. Those are the kind of companies we bank.

WS: How were you hired at BNB?

KO: After Capital One acquired North Fork in 2006 my services were no longer needed. I interviewed at a few banks and one was Bridgehampton. I interviewed for the CFO position. Tom (Tobin), the CEO, was looking to retire. Instead of offering me the CFO position he offered me the CEO position. I was scared out of my mind!

WS: What did you do?

KO: First I wished my father were here to talk with. Then I thought about 30 seconds and said yes.

WS: You’ve expanded the bank enormously. How?

KO: Probably two-thirds of our growth has been organic. That means hiring talented bankers. When I go to visit potential customers, I don’t ask who their bank is, I ask who their banker is. If they don’t know, fine, that’s an opportunity. If they do know and like that person I try to go meet them and see if they’re happy where they are. We aggressively pursue good bankers to hire and build businesses around them.

BNB Bank
Founded: 1910
Headquarters: Bridgehampton
Assets: App. $4.3B
Branches: 44 serving Long Island and greater New York metropolitan area
Ranking: Among Top 3 New York community banks – American Banker

Warren Strugatch is a partner with Inflection Point Associates, a consulting firm in Stony Brook. Contact him at Warren@InflectionPointAssoc.com

How Trump, Tariffs & Retaliation May Impact Long Island

A worker controlling metal melting in furnaces at a metallugical plant.

Driving onto the campus of Stony Brook University recently to attend a global trade conference, I passed the new research center under construction in the college’s technology park. I could see that the building’s foundation was done. Steel beams framed the half-built structure as workers jackhammered away.

At the conference itself, government employees, trade lawyers and consultants talked up the benefits of exporting. The small-business owners in the audience took business cards and brochures, sipped cups of coffee from the urn, and contemplated how they might do a little exporting one of these days.

Leaving the conference, I passed the construction site where steel girders glinted in the noon light. Those beams, if imported, now faced the 25 percent tariff ordered by President Trump in retaliation for what, in language evoking military threat, he called “an assault on our country.” In recent remarks Trump has described America as a nation “ravaged by aggressive foreign trade practices” and positioned himself as protecting workers who had been “betrayed.”

The bellicose talk visibly spooked some of his most conservative supporters, who, for whatever their positions on domestic issues, had consistently opposed protectionism throughout their careers, and reflexively defended keeping markets – foreign and domestic – open.

To provide visuals for a televised tariff-increase signing, the White House collected a bevy of hulking steelworkers with whom POTUS could shake hands and beam with their presumed post-signing appreciation. The steelworkers – and surely the owners of the companies they work for – indeed looked pleased that the president of the United States was raising the prices customers would have to pay to assure their livelihood.

News analysts, reporters, and policy commentators, whose own jobs are decidedly far less secure, immediately raised questions about the prospects of a trade war. Trump, never one to shy away from an argument, asserted the war was “winnable.” He looked like the kid in the schoolyard readying for a fight as friends stood behind him holding rocks.

Politicians who call for using tariffs as trade-war ammunition remind me of the old Woody Allen bit where he describes a fight where he hurt the other’s guy fist with his nose. This is what Trump is doing to us. By raising the price of imported steel by 25 percent, Trump effectively punches the public in our collective noses. We lose our freedom to choose cheaper or better-quality imports. As for the price differential, Washington pockets the change.

While prior presidents have indeed applied economic sanctions, they’ve been aimed at countries with whom relations have been chilly. At my trade conference, Jim Black, a partner with the SilvermanAcampora law firm in Jericho, recalled earlier years when a mention of the “Nasty Nine” nations referred to hostile states like Russia, Iran and Cuba.

“That number is way down now,” Black said shortly before lunch. One reason adversaries become friends is that trade brings nations together; sanctions drive them apart. Another speaker, trade expert Bill Laraque, dismissed the America First rhetoric.

“Trade sanctions aren’t going to make America great,” he said. “They are going to make America mediocre.”

Merely raising the cost of imports, he said, was no answer.

“What about improving the infrastructure? Charging ourselves more for steel is missing the point.”

As his swerve towards protectionism took shape last month, the president replaced his chief economic advisor, Gary Cohn, with TV talking head Larry Kudlow. The ousted Cohn is a free-market advocate. Kudlow, of course, is the well-dressed talking head who plays an economist on TV. He is an unrepentant supply-sider but by no means is he a trade hawk. It seems the president didn’t get that memo.

On March 6, one week before getting Cohn’s old job, Kudlow blogged on kudlow.com under the headline “Tariffs are Taxes,” tariffs and import quotas are what we do to ourselves in times of peace and what foreign nations do to us with blockades… in times of war. But now we are imposing sanctions on our own country by punishing with tariffs in order to make Americans more prosperous.”

In other words, we’re punching their noses with our faces.

“If ever there were a crisis of logic,” declared Kudlow, “this is it.”

Warren Strugatch is a partner with Inflection Point Associates, a consulting firm in Stony Brook. Contact him at Warren@InflectionPointAssoc.com

With Plenty of New Jobs on The Line, Nature’s Bounty Gets Second Chance

Nature's Bounty is planning new manufacturing jobs on Long Island. Right: CEO Paul Sturman.

About six years ago, Nature’s Bounty, the vitamin and food-supplement maker that employs over 2,000 in the Town of Islip, announced plans to open a $32 million, 60,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Amityville’s New Horizons Industrial Park, located in the Town of Babylon.

To run it, Nature’s Bounty would soon hire more than 200 local workers to manufacture energy bars for global sales. A vitamin and food-supplement manufacturer with manufacturing operations in California, China and elsewhere, Nature’s Bounty was, and is, Islip’s largest employer that is not a hospital. It is also one of the largest private employers in Suffolk County.

To sweeten the pot for company officials, the Babylon Industrial Development Agency slashed the company’s Amityville tax bill by 60 percent for 15 years. In 2013, when the facility opened, Empire State Development, New York State’s economic-development arm, offered a $750,000 grant of its own.

Within just two years, the good vibes soured. In March 2015, Nature’s Bounty closed the plant, axing more than 200 jobs. The plant’s work was outsourced to Nellson Nutraceutical, a California company whose “very special manufacturing capabilities” could “produce more bars and faster,” according to a spokeswoman.

Matthew McDonough, Babylon IDA’s chief executive, tried to talk the company into staying. No dice.

“California,” he says, “was a done deal.”

The state withheld grant payment while McDonough clawed back nearly $294,000 in owed abatements.

“Ironically, we ended up leasing one of the buildings to Bloomfield Bakers, from California,” he tells me.

By the following year, the company was considering its options. In Fall 2016, Nature’s Bounty told Empire State Development that its 11 Long Island manufacturing facilities required extensive upgrades to keep the company from relocating. Howard Zemsky, Empire State Development’s chief, “assessed the threat of moving the company’s manufacturing and distribution out of state to be real,” according to William Mannix, executive director of Islip’s Industrial Development Agency. Albany then offered a grant of up to $25 million and $10 million in job training and other workforce development programs.

In return, the company committed to creating 157 new jobs, retaining 2,042 existing jobs while investing over $142 million on upgrading its Long Island plants.

Locally, Islip’s IDA board offered $8.4 million worth of tax abatements to the company over the next decade. The agency also expects to extend an undetermined amount of sales tax benefits as well, based on final capital cost reporting. The retention deal is expected to close within several weeks.

Job creation is a key component of any government retention strategy. According to a report in Newsday at the time, Nature’s Bounty’s CEO “pledged” to add the jobs within a year’s time. A spokeswoman says that the equipment needed to run the facilities would be transferred within three months’ time.

Since then, the company’s executive suite has had a shakeup. Last July, Nature’s Bounty’s long-time private equity owner, the Carlyle Group, sold a majority-stake sale of the company to Kohlberg Kravis Roberts for a reported $3 billion. After the deal the new owners divested most of the company’s European operations, slimming its global work force by about 75 percent.

CEO Steve left Ronkonkoma and moved into the corner office of the Kellogg Company, the global cereal maker. Replacing him was Paul Sturman, former worldwide head of Pfizer Consumer Healthcare. The company’s best-known brands remain, including the flagship Nature’s Bounty, plus Sundown Naturals, Osteo Bi-Flex, Solgar, Balance Bar and Puritan’s Pride.

Despite the upheaval, apparently neither state nor local IDA officials have opened conversations with Sturman to gauge the new CEO’s level of commitment to his predecessor’s pledge. Messages asking about job creation left with Sturman were not returned. Jodi Katz, a spokeswoman, says hiring information “would be made available at such time as we submit a filing” with Empire State Development. That won’t be before the end of the year, at the earliest – a long time for people waiting on jobs.

John Lombardo, who runs Suffolk County Community College’s Advanced Manufacturing program, tells me: “I know firsthand they are actively participating in every job fair at Stony Brook, Suffolk Community College and the regional labor departments. I’ve every reason to believe they’ve probably already exceeded their original hiring goals.”

Hopefully this time the new hires will be permanent.

Warren Strugatch is a partner with Inflection Point Associates, a consulting firm in Stony Brook. Contact him at Warren@InflectionPointAssoc.com

 

John Cameron: Engineering The Road to Success

John Cameron of Cameron Engineering is as c omfortable in a business suit as he is a wetsuit. (Photo by Bob Giglione)

After graduating from the U.S. Merchant Marine Academy at Kings Point with a Bachelor’s degree in engineering, John Cameron worked as a field engineer for Westinghouse Electric at the Indian Point Nuclear Plant, then for the Nassau County Department of Health. Nights he took graduate classes in environmental science at LIU Post. In 1985, he founded Cameron Engineering & Associates, LLP, growing it into one of Long Island’s foremost consulting engineering and planning firms, handling many of the region’s major construction, expansion and renovation projects. For 10 years John has chaired the influential Long Island Regional Planning Council. Active in leadership roles at numerous educational, charitable and environmental organizations, Cameron serves on the boards of the engineering schools of both Hofstra and Stony Brook universities and the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County. A one-time college track and field star, he is also a lifelong runner, surfer and fitness enthusiast. Raised in Long Beach, he and his wife Loretta live in Rockville Centre. Here are excerpts from our conversation.

Warren Strugatch: Who were the major influences in your life?

John Cameron: My parents were tremendous influences. My father, John, came to America from Scotland through Ellis Island. My mother, Florence, came from a Catholic family in Scotland. In those days it was difficult to practice Catholicism there, so she talked my grandfather into coming to America. My dad was the most Christian person I have ever known and my moral compass: Right was right, wrong was wrong, you don’t blur the lines. For years on Long Island he worked two jobs, as a school bus driver and as a carpenter. We moved out to Nevada where he worked as a carpenter in the copper mines, as a janitor, as a bartender and at a bowling alley. My mom got homesick so we moved back. She was a huge sports fan. My father and my mother raised four kids and taught us the value of hard work.

WS: How did you decide to start your own business?

JC: Growing up I didn’t know anyone who had their own business, so I didn’t necessarily think of starting my own. I started working for other people. Engineering is a very conservative profession, by its nature. I wanted to innovate and I knew I had to do this on my own. I started my own firm in 1985 with $5,000 in the bank and no clients — the most difficult thing I ever did. A year later everything burned down. I had to start again. Nietzsche said whatever doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.

WS: Did it make you stronger?

JC: Definitely. I started different businesses and did different things: general construction, recycling, design. We started getting contracts around the country. People who worked for us stay on. My first part-time assistant still works here.

WS: What’s the most important project you’ve worked on?

JC: I’d say it’s the Long Beach Waterfront Park in ’97. I grew up down the block. It was named Project of the Year for Long Island by the Professional Engineers Society of New York. There’s a plaque there dedicated to my parents.

WS: Engineers are famous for being cerebral. What are you passionate about?

JC: I’m passionate about Long Island, what our challenges are and what we have to do to resolve them. Resistance to change is one of our biggest impediments, along with cost of living, cost of government, legacy cost, and cost of (public employee) pensions.

WS: You’ve spent a decade as chairman of the Long Island Regional Planning Board. How has that affected you?

JC: I deal with a great deal of cynicism. Many people experience not having a voice in how things are done. They react by becoming resistant to change. That resistance impedes progress. We need affordable housing here. We also need more rental housing. These have become four-letter words. Where are working class people supposed to live? Where are poor people supposed to live? They have to live somewhere. They should be able to live in safety and have decent schools too.

Cameron Engineering & Associates, LLP
Managing director: John Cameron
Location: Woodbury, NY
Description: Consulting engineering and planning firm
Founded: 1985
Employees: 100
Work force: engineers, landscape architects, planners, facility operators and environmental scientists

Warren Strugatch is co-founder of Inflection Point Associates (InflectionPointAssoc.com) consulting firm in Stony Brook. Reach him at Warren@ InflectionPointAssoc.com.

Cryptocurrency Makes a Home on Long Island

The most important economic story of this century will likely be the rise of cryptocurrency, the digital open ledger exchange system where users, rather than government treasury officials or bankers, determine value and collectively maintain system integrity.

Recent developments, including a Long Island beverage company’s announcement that it would become a blockchain miner, have roiled the market, which tanked early last month. Network pundits, TV financial gurus, big banks and government officials have increasingly raised questions about the dangers of cryptocurrency.

For a few days around Christmas, a struggling Farmingdale beverage manufacturer named Long Island Iced Tea Corp. seized national attention when it changed its name to Long Blockchain Corp. and saw its stock value nearly triple before sinking back to earth.

It was apparently too much for CNN. Declaring “Bitcoin Mania Has Reached a New Level of Insanity,” Money writer Paul R. La Monica compared “the hype surrounding bitcoin and blockchain” with the dotcom boom and bust of the late ’90s.

“Madness,” he railed. “Pure and simple. Long Island Iced Tea is just the latest small company to change its business model in an attempt to latch onto the … cryptocurrency wave.”

The New York Times labeled the move “the most notorious example” of struggling companies who slap “blockchain” to their names and announce improbable cryptocurrency plans.

The actual story is more complicated. It’s also a little juicier. Involved are such names as Jonathan Ledecky, the New York Islanders principal owner; Heidi Klum, the supermodel; Eric Watson, a polo-playing New Zealand playboy rancher; and Kerry Kennedy, one of the late Robert F. Kennedy’s daughters and ex-wife of Gov. Andrew Cuomo.

Long Island Iced Tea’s transformation from beverage company to bitcoin miner began last December. Having reported latest-quarter sales of just $1.6 million, the company’s stock had dropped more than 40 percent, dragging valuation below $35 million. The drop precipitated a Nasdaq delisting warning. A second warning came last month.

The cash-strapped drink maker, which had funded operations primarily through equity sales and borrowing, apparently heeded the warning. Philip Thomas, the company’s hitherto low-profile CEO, decided to raise revenues by going blockchain before he was replaced last month. The company plans to spin off its iced tea subsidiary and focus on blockchain solutions.

The odd saga began in October 2007 when Mr. Ledecky and Mr. Watson, his business partner, raised $550 million in an initial public offering for a financial shell company, Triplecrown Acquisition Corp. The shell then acquired Mr. Watson’s New Zealand dairy farm business, CullenAgricultural Technologies, taking that company public. Six years later the
partners acquired Mr.Thomas’s Long Island Brand Beverages. At this point they changed the company name to Long Island Iced Tea.

Mr. Watson, who’s reported to have a fondness for dating supermodels and throwing extravagant parties, also runs Cullen Investments. As Bloomberg Business News reported,
Cullen is a majority shareholder in Bendon Ltd., a lingerie and swimwear company which employs Heidi Klum as spokesmodel. As for Kerry Kennedy, Bloomberg reported she was a board member of Long Island Iced Tea before resigning in September.

While bitcoin transactions remain unfamiliar processes for most Long Islanders, a number of e-retailers around the world have been accepting cryptocurrency for years. One is Tyler Roye, a veteran Long Island tech entrepreneur and co-founder/CEO of eGifter, an online gift-card market that began accepting bitcoin in 2014.

While opponents raise fears that cryptocurrency transactions are vulnerable to hackers, their advocates insist the opposite is true. Mr. Roye made the cryptocurrency case in an August blog post:

“The low margins and fraud challenges in our business had us looking to add more affordable and secure payment options,” he wrote. “Bitcoin was a great addition as it both reduced transaction costs and delivered sales free of the type of fraud we see in credit card sales.”

Cryptocurrency is not a perfect system; neither is the government-and banker-controlled system that’s prevailed for centuries. What’s certain is that cryptocurrency is not bound by national borders, not restricted by sovereign monetary policies and defiantly not shackled to the demands and fee structures of the banking industry. Governments will likely increase their efforts to regulate, control and tax its usage, and bankers will step up their efforts to maintain their lucrative hold on the world’s transactions.

How successful they will be depends largely on how vocal we are today in support of economic freedom of choice. You can take that to the bank.

Warren Strugatch is a partner at Inflection Point Associates, a consulting firm in Stony Brook. Reach him at Warren@InflectionPointAssoc.com

For James Hayward, Building Companies is in The DNA

Applied DNA Sciences CEO James Hayward is a leader in the local biotech industry. (Photo by Bob Giglione)

One of Long Island’s leading life-sciences entrepreneurs, James Hayward co-founded Europe’s first liposome company, Biocompatibles Ltd. in the early ’80s; headed worldwide research at Esteé Lauder from 1984 through 1989; then founded The Collaborative Group, a cluster of interconnected companies servicing the biotech, pharmaceutical, and consumer-product industries from 1990 through July 2004.

After selling the company’s assets to Dow Chemical and to a company later acquired by BASF, Dr. Hayward refocused on venture capital investing. In June 2007 he was named chairman, president and CEO of Applied DNA Sciences Inc., a Nasdaq company that uses DNA tagging, testing and manufacturing to reduce counterfeiting and improve supply-chain integrity. Dr. Hayward – the degree is in molecular biology and biophysics from Stony Brook University – serves on the boards of the Stony Brook Foundation, the Research Foundation of the State of New York, and the Long Island Life Sciences Initiative. His longtime base of operations is the Long Island High Technology Incubator at Stony Brook.

Here are edited excerpts from our conversation.

Warren Strugatch: Tell me about your early years.

James Hayward: My family lived in St. Albans, Queens. We owned a small deli-cum general store and lived right behind it. Everyone in the family worked there from the time we could walk. We had the experience of being in the great minority. The neighborhood was undergoing integration, with some reluctance. Being store owners was something of a struggle. Assembling and selling the Sunday newspapers was my job. When the city bus stopped at our corner, I’d hop on with a bag full of newspapers, sell up and down the aisles for five or six stops, then hop off. I’d take the next bus back. I learned to sell face to face and to do the work behind it.

WS: How did your parents influence you?

JH: My dad, Robert, was from England. My mom, Margaret, was from Ireland. Dad ran the store, Mom made the salads. Mom was socially minded and volunteered at nursing homes and Creedmoor State Hospital. As a student, I worked as an orderly at Creedmoor. Both my parents had remarkable work ethics but understood there was more to life than work. When the store finally closed, we’d take out our roller skates and roll up and down the aisles.

WS: What do you consider your strongest business skill?

JH: I’d say it’s choosing my friends wisely. I chose my academic advisors on the basis not only of personal admiration but of friendship. My mentors became friends for life. I was fortunate in that my post-doc advisor in London at the Royal Free Hospital School of Medicine kept a leg in academia and a leg in industry. I learned a lot about business from him.

WS: Unlike some scientist-entrepreneurs, you’ve thrived on the financial and fundraising aspects of business.

JH: What I learned in London, running a company trading on the FTSE [Financial Times Stock Exchange], was that raising funds is a matter of telling a great story with passion. As a result, we had kind of an easy path to initial funding. We spent less time on the road raising money. The old adage about raising money is to do it when you have a prospectus, not when you really need it.

WS: How did working at Esteé Lauder affect you?

JH: Working at Lauder was a great lesson in speed to market. A company like Lauder makes expensive advertising commitments in big-circulation magazines months in advance, sometimes for products in development. As a scientist, you better manage your team so you launch on time. You can’t miss ad deadlines.

WS: Why is the work of Applied DNA Sciences important?

JH: We’re a small company that’s the world’s largest manufacturer of DNA. We use DNA to detect counterfeit products in materials like cotton, currency, pharmaceuticals, and now legally sold cannabis. We catch manufacturers who cheat by diluting and mislabeling their products. We take the evidence to court. So far we’ve had 116 convictions in 116 trials. Our work makes life better for consumers.

WS: Can you describe your business vision?

JH: Our vision is to change the world for the better. By improving large commercial ecosystems and impacting lots of people, we can make the world a more sustainably managed and more truthful place.

WS: What’s your take on your company’s future?

JH: This is a $50 million market-cap company that should be a billion-dollar market-cap company.

Warren Strugatch is a partner at Inflection Point Associates, a consulting firm in Stony Brook. Reach him at Warren@InflectionPointAssoc.com

Everyone Who Wants a Job Has Got One. True or False?

The regional economy chugged along quietly in 2017, gaining steam as the year ended. With an October unemployment rate of 4.1 percent – exactly half the January 2010 peak – the regional economy effectively reached full employment. In theory, this means everybody in Nassau and Suffolk who wants a job has got one.

Believe that if you like. Job creation and wage growth, on the other hand, have been tepid. So why is unemployment so low?

Usually that happens when people stop looking for work, settle for low-paying McJobs, or move out of the area to find opportunities elsewhere. We’re not at full employment because employers are creating jobs. They simply aren’t. In November, job expansion was effectively zero.

A review of the past year reveals a labor market that’s growing in terms of employment efficiency – closing the gap between jobs and job seekers – but one that’s shrinking in terms of wage growth and employment expansion.

The Long Island job creation story is not a happy tale. The region is losing jobs rapidly, about 900 in 2017. Jobs in construction, trade and manufacturing led the exodus as 600 private-sector jobs evaporated between September and October alone.

Pink slips went out to many office administrators, temporary health service workers, travel agents, store workers and waste management workers, among other occupations. Anecdotally, many of those displaced found lower-paying, part-time jobs and have doubled up to make ends meet.

We did see job growth, however, in education and health services – nearly 10,000 new jobs there – and leisure and hospitality, which added some 1,500 new positions. While those jobs include high-paying professions like school superintendents and hotel general managers and surgeons, the majority are make-do gigs: home healthcare attendants, pre-school staffers and motel housekeepers.

In March, the New York State Department of Labor announced the region’s top five trending jobs for 2017, naming 5 occupations growing in both demand and average wages. Those positions, followed by their average salaries, are:

• Software developers/applications ($93,660)
• Physical therapists ($91,230)
• Registered nurses ($86,940)
• Plumbers, pipefitters and steamfitters ($78,610)
• Market research analysts and marketing specialists ($68,590)

It used to be that LI’s most competitive jobs paid significant differentials over similar work around the country. Considered a kind of regional bonus pay, that differential would offset our high cost of living. That is no longer the case.

The differential has been shrinking. About two years ago it disappeared altogether. One study by the Rausch Foundation showed that the average Long Island paycheck dropped about 3.2 percent since 2010, based on 2013 dollars.

The difference is starkest when compared with national wage levels. In the decade beginning 2005, average LI pay was lower at the onset of 2014 than it was in 2005, while the average U.S. wage earner earned about 8.3 percent more.

Here’s another perspective. In 2005, the Island’s average employee earned 9.3 percent above the national average; in 2014, that advantage had albeit disappeared. While many hourly workers still out-earn their counterparts around the country, quite a number of managerial and professional jobs in this market pay less – sometimes significantly less.

What’s more, the trend is downwards. That $93,660 software-developer salary the Labor Department touts pays about $11,000 more in the average community – and much more in highly competitive markets like New York, San Francisco and Boston.

Compounding the problem is our high cost of living. Living here costs about 50 percent more than it does to live in the average U.S. community. According to some indicators the cost differential is rising, driven by the usual twin gremlins: housing and local taxes.

As Rausch reported in 2015: “Given that Long Island is a ‘high cost’ region, the convergence with national income levels does not reflect well on the ability of Long Islanders to maintain living standards.”

Put another way: we’re working harder to earn the same or less; our costs are going up while people in other markets are easing up, earning more and paying less to live there.

Let’s hope 2018 brings better economic news.

Marty Greenstein: Let Stress be Springboard to Success

Amazing Events & Celebrations CEO Marty Greenstein has a few tricks up his sleeve. (Photo by Bob Giglione)

Marty Greenstein and his wife Dianna opened their first restaurant, the Hungry Haven, inside long-gone Baron’s Department Store in Smithtown, but in 1980 the couple got out of the restaurant business and continued doing catering and special events under the name Uncle Marty’s. As their clientele grew more corporate, the Greensteins renamed their business Event Pros Group and expanded to a larger building in Ronkonkoma a decade later. Today, Event Pros Group handles a select list of event clients, while Mr. Greenstein concentrates on public speaking, sales training, and his book published in 2015, How to Sell the Brooklyn Bridge… And Other Stuff. He continues to perform as a strolling magician, using tricks he learned watching the magicians he hired work the crowds. We caught up with “Uncle Marty” at Watermill Caterers in Smithtown.

Long Island Press: Were your parents role models as entrepreneurs?

Marty Greenstein: My father was named Aaron. Everybody called him Archie. He was born in a small village in Russia. Never knew his father. Left school after third grade. My dad was a tough guy. He worked for years as a salesman for the Restful Mattress Company. He’d go to customers’ homes who called him to have their old mattresses fixed. My dad would take a knife and slice their mattresses open. He’d show they didn’t have the original horsehair stuffing. Then they’d have to hire him to repair it. They loved him anyway. He was a bit of a bandit.

LIP: Did your mother work as a homemaker or in business?

MG: My mother’s name was Phyllis. She was a hard worker too. She was always working at her mother’s corset shop in East Flatbush near where we lived. In later years, she worked at the restaurant my father eventually opened in Borough Park.

LIP: How did your career begin?

MG: I didn’t finish school. After working at my dad’s restaurant, I bought a taxi medallion and drove a cab in the city. WPIX used to call me when they did stories about cab drivers. Then a guy who cast commercials hailed my cab. After that I got work doing movies and commercials. I still get calls. About four years ago I was the Aleve Santa Claus.

LIP: How did the catering and eventing get started?

MG: Customers’ kids used to call me Uncle Marty. One day a little girl asked .me, “Uncle Marty, can I have my birthday party in your restaurant?” What do you think I said, No? I said, “Of course, sweetheart. What day is your birthday?” I asked Dianna how to create a kid’s birthday party. Then an adult asked me if I’d cater his company’s picnic. I said, “Of course.” I had never been to a corporate picnic myself. So I learned.

LIP: How did your business grow?

MG: In the early ’80s I started creating events around team-building. It offered a solid business reason to get out of the office. We needed tons of costumes for the exercises. At one point we had over 800 costumes.

LIP: Are all your events successful?

MG: Yes, of course. Well, maybe one in a million isn’t. Do you know I keep a mouse in my pocket for magic? We were working a wedding, I took out the mouse and said very quietly, “Eek.” Maybe not so quietly. The mother of the bride sees it and starts screaming at us to leave. So we left. Another time we filled a 6,500-foot tunnel in Grand Central Station with several thousand balloons. Later everyone started popping them – Pop! Pop Pop! The cops ran in thinking someone had a machine gun. God forbid.

LIP: Do you have an eventing philosophy?

MG: I do. I believe eventing is all about passion. It can be stressful, but I believe in letting the stress become a springboard for success. I grew up watching my parents work hard but not letting themselves grow. So I say: Never stagnate. Let your imagination lift you to where you can see far into the distance. Rather than letting your restrictions hold you back, let what you see guide you.

30 Years Later, My Father’s Place Returns in Posh Style

Clockwise from top: Outside My Father's Place, Emmylou Harris, Billy Joel and Debbie Harry of Blondie all were among those who played the legendary venue (Photos by Steve Rosenfield)

As a Hofstra undergrad journalism major during the mid-’70s, I hung out at the school paper The Chronicle, interviewed visiting speakers like Dick Gregory and Allen Ginsberg and late at night wrote jazz reviews. Everybody else wrote about rock and talked about a club called My Father’s Place.

“Cool,” I thought. “Somebody’s dad owns a music club.”

I learned you didn’t need to go to Roslyn for My Father’s Place, just turn on the radio. The club’s owner, a Buddha-bellied, snaggle-toothed former headshop owner named Michael Epstein, Long Island-famous as “Eppy,” had struck a deal with WLIR. The FM powerhouse broadcast concert pickups across much of the Northeast.

The club’s fame spread. Rock royalty poured into Roslyn: Bruce Springsteen, Billy Joel, The Police, Bob Marley and Peter Tosh. James Brown and Keith Richards. Cindy Lauper and Pat Benatar. Lou Reed. The Ramones.

“It was a time of drugs, free love, free sex and good music,” Epstein expansively told a local weekly newspaper in 2013.

Too good a time, perhaps. Citing parking and quality-of-life issues, authorities forced the club to close in ‘87. Eppy hunkered down, doing music promotion and artist management.

Six years ago, I organized an outdoor summer business networking series at an elegant Nassau hotel. We tapped the Long Island baby boom demographic and puzzled over which boomer celebrity everybody’d want to see.

We invited Eppy to open the series. From the open-air stage he captivated the boomer crowd with garrulous humor, Lawn Guyland chutzpah and a steady stream of rock anecdotes.

“You just gave me back a slice of my youth,” one attendee told me afterwards.

Last month, as if commemorating the club’s 30th anniversary of closure, Eppy returned to the spotlight to announce he was reopening My Father’s Place in – wait for it – Roslyn. He’d spent three years working out a deal with the owners of the 77-room Roslyn Hotel.

Having founded the grittiest rock club east of CBGB, having been inducted into the Long Island Music Hall of Fame in 2010, Eppy was opening a posh supper club. Well, who thought we’d ever hear Rod Stewart crooning songbook standards?

I called Eppy and asked how it came about.

“I never wanted to close My Father’s Place,” he acknowledges. “I was asked to leave because they wanted to build a shopping center. The municipality asked me back. I picked the hotel because they have three levels of parking. There will be no parking problems this time.”

Expect Eppy to adapt his fabled promotional skills, honed on progressive rock FM radio, to today’s social media channels.

“Everything changes,” he says. “But it’s all good, really. I’m bringing live music back, original music. Not just rock but jazz and reggae, blues and folk. Some nights we’ll have comedy. People forget I presented comedians like Billy Crystal, Andy Kaufman and Eddie Murphy.”

Eppy will revive his brand and take it upscale when My Father’s Place reopens, perhaps as early as June.

“There will be excellent food in our restaurant and nice tablecloths,” he says. As far as seating goes, “I’m ordering chairs that cost $325 and have lumbar devices.”

Eppy reflects on what he’d learned from building Long Island’s premier rock venue, then losing it amidst bitter recriminations from village officials and aggrieved neighbors.

“I f***** up terribly,” he recalls. “I’ll do everything differently this time. I f***** up by not having proper legal representation, by presuming things that weren’t true, and by disregarding the taxing authorities. I had a good set of books but it didn’t matter. You have to learn the ambiguities of all the laws.”

Eppy says he’s ready to bury the hatchet. Just don’t expect him to pucker up to his old adversaries.

“If they want to see a show they can buy a ticket,” he says. “Come buy a ticket, sit down and eat. I’ll put on a good show. Everyone will have a good experience.”

He adds: “That’s all I can do.”

C Suite: Town & Country Real Estate CEO Judi Desiderio

Judi Desiderio, CEO of Town & Country Real Estate, finds solutions to problems by looking at different angles. (Photo by Bob Giglione)

Judi Desiderio was a mid-island Phys Ed teacher and amateur athlete when she decided to change her life and try real estate. She found her calling, getting her broker’s license, becoming her agency’s top producer; leaving after a buy-out; then founding her own agency, Town and Country Real Estate. Her firm now has eight offices and about 170 employees and contractors. Business editor Warren Strugatch recently caught up with her. Here are edited excerpts from our conversation.

Long Island Press: How did you start out?

Judi Desiderio: I grew up in Massapequa. My parents, Al and Jeri, were huge influences on my life. He was a builder and she was a housewife. I became an educator.

LIP: Did your parents encourage your career?

JD: I was never encouraged to be a teacher. My parents were Italian-Americans and felt I should get married and have lots of babies. I wanted to go to college and so I did. I got my Master of Exercise Physiology degree from Adelphi.

LIP: How’d you get in the game?

JD: Thirty-six years ago my first job was with Jack Douglas. Within a short period of time I outgrew his operation. I moved across the street to Cook-Pony Farm (brokerage) and became top producer there. The owner, John Cataletto, made me a partner.

LIP: What triggered your decision to leave?

JD: Corcoran bought us. I’m not one for being corporate. I lived out the terms of my non-compete (contract). I came to realize the East End real estate market was not (appealing) to smart brokers. I decided to open my own agency and change that. Knowledge is power, I like to say. That was 12 years ago. Can you believe it?

LIP: You opened in a soft market. What was your business model?

JD: I bought a small company called Village Real Estate. I closed their offices then began to hire support staff. I knew from being an agent that I needed to have plum data systems. I had a small army working on it.

LIP: Did you decide to grow organically or through acquisitions?

JD: I acquired Kathleen Beckman (in 2011) and Posposil (in 2016). I bought their databases as well and that made our system more plum. Out here everybody uses RealNet; everybody has the same database. It’s what you do with it that’s the difference.

LIP: Do you have a distinctive approach to managing brokers?

JD: I do. It’s different managing brokers than managing employees. Brokers are independent contractors. I visit all my offices regularly and I get in the pits with my agents every day. I created a board made up of the managers of each office.

LIP: Please describe your management philosophy.

JD: As a manager I fall back on what I learned as a teacher, which is the importance of communicating well; as an athlete, which is the importance of competing; and as a broker, which is finding solutions to problems by looking at different angles.

LIP: Real estate is about dealmaking. Do you have a deal philosophy?

JD: I do. Melanie Ross, my former partner at Cook-Pony Farm, used to say: Never need a deal. You can want a deal. When you need a deal, you compromise yourself.

LIP: Do you have a general business philosophy?

JD: Keep your mind open. Don’t get stuck in a rut. Always consider different angles. If you’re working with a listing agent who won’t open the door, then go open a window.