Key group missing from talent drain conversation

By Coralie Saint-Louis, nextLI outreach and engagement manager

There are so many conversations happening around Long Island about the next generation, all centered around how to build communities to attract and keep young people in the region. The experts might be close to finding an answer, but can we continue to hold these talks without the voices of young people who will be impacted by these decisions?

The Middle Market Alliance of Long Island brought out the heavyweights at a meeting on Feb. 7 about reversing the talent drain in the region. The discussion aimed to understand the flight of young people from Long Island, why they’re leaving and how to keep them here. Patchogue Mayor Paul Pontieri was there, as well as TRITEC Co-founder Robert Coughlan, East West Industries President Teresa Ferraro and State Assemb. Steve Stern. Former Rep. Steve Israel moderated the discussions while SUNY Old Westbury President Dr. Calvin Butts III delivered the keynote.

Butts said the focus shouldn’t only be on young people who are leaving Long Island, but also on understanding what is required to keep the ones who are here. The consensus on how to achieve that wasn’t all that new: Replicate Patchogue’s downtown revitalization model and prepare students for the good-paying jobs that already exist on the Island. They discussed the growing tech industry and possibly turning Long Island into a national leader in cybersecurity.

While he agreed, Stern says Long Island lacks the infrastructure, adding that 70 percent of Suffolk County is unsewered. He went on to suggest that developing a plan for sewer expansion and following that plan would help create better incentives for private industry.

Coughlan, whose company created New Village, a mixed-use residential development in Patchogue, said changing local attitudes to support the growth of downtowns is necessary before anything can be done. “Some of the elements that are required in order to create these communities, the NIMBY-ism is a huge factor,” he said. “A lot of the people here today, I assume, are in favor of supporting the growth of these downtowns. You guys are the silent majority, a loud minority as it comes out, so we need everybody’s support, whether it’s talking to your local congressman, talking to your local legislators, let them know you’re in support of that.”

During his keynote, Butts said personal biases and narrowmindedness toward people who are coming from other places are keeping Long Island from developing. He pointed to the lack of cheaper housing and the challenges to build new housing because of NIMBY. He asked everyone to put aside self-interest and think about the region’s interest and stability.

Although these conversations are needed throughout Long Island, missing from that conversation was members of the future generation. The next step at this point would be to figure out how to bring these young people to the table to be a part of these essential conversations about Long Island’s future.