Long Island can lead the way as America strives to compete.  The past few weeks have seen significant movement that can benefit our intellectual institutions and has the potential to spur massive economic growth. Last week Senator Schumer joined with leaders from Stony BrookUniversity, Cold Spring Harbor Labs and BNL to push for a regional innovation cluster.  This week Brookhaven Supervisor Mark Lesko continued the call when he announced Accelerate LI at his State of the Town.  And President Obama stressed the need to invest in technology and education in the State of the Union.

Schumer and Lesko are smart to push a regional innovation cluster for Long Island because that’s exactly the direction of federal policy. Originally an idea that was born out of Harvard Business School, theAdministration and Congress has funded various new programs promoting clusters through the Departments of Commerce and Energy. And more recently, Congress passed the COMPETES Act, which created a new federal cluster program aimed at efforts like those being spearhead on Long Island. These new programs put a premium on linking research institutions, business organizations, and private investors. That’s exactly what we need on Long Island.

Programs like these have the potential to transform local economies if they are executed properly. It will fall on local government to assure that new industries born through these partnerships have the opportunity to grow.  If local government doesn’t provide quick approvals and incentives for innovators and investors to build their businesses when they leave the institutions, jobs created by our innovation cluster will leave the island, just as they have in the past.

I am confident that the institutions above along with NorthShore/LIJ’s Feinstein Institute, Hofstra, Adelphi and LIU will produce great minds with great ideas.  They in turn will develop companies capable of creating good jobs. They have in the past, but can we keep them here?  It’s time for Long Island governments to wake up!  In the face of one of the worst economic climates in history, some LI towns are putting ultra-parochial concerns before regional needs by saying no to good projects that can produce jobs, stimulate the local economy and provide homes for young professionals.  We can build these companies, but where will their employees live?

I have often used this space to talk about how our region changed from a farming and fishing community to a region with a population the size of Chicago.  We have all of the problems of major cities but we pretend we live in Mayberry when we zone.  That’s got to change or we might as well take the money we are investing in clusters and light it on fire.