The Long Island Index, partnering with the Long Island Association, issued a new report yesterday that explores expanding the biomedical sector on Long Island, along with the creation of expanded housing opportunities to help support this growth and the workers it will bring to the region.

The report, entitled Long Island’s Future: Economic Implications of Today’s Choices is a lengthy piece, and can be found here.

Rauch and friends did a good job of conveying the crux of their report during a small launch event in Melville. The launch event was attended by myself, developers, Nassau County Comptroller George Maragos, Dick Amper of the LI Pine Barrens Society and others.

In summary, the groups are arguing for the creation of a robust biomedical sector on the Island, using areas like the Route 110 corridor and the Village of Westbury as launching points. With over 1 million square feet of vacant office space along the Route 110 corridor, Rauch identifies this area as “a logical physical locus for Long Island’s biomedical cluster.”

The “high” scenario proposed is to create 43,000 new units of housing, and over 12,000 new jobs in the field by 2040. Based on their projections, Long Island can potentially have 138,000 new residents, and $600 million in new tax revenue by the target of 2040 as well.

Any effort to bolster the diversification of Long Island’s regional economy should be supported by both residents and stakeholders, but tying that success to more multifamily across the Island is risky. The Long Island Index report has some sunny projections that raise serious questions – the most prominent is that if Route 110 has so much vacant office space, is it sound planning to inject even more office square footage into the region in places like Heartland or the Nassau Coliseum area? Further, how will these large scale projects impact the projections of the Index? Without concrete incentives being offered, will transit usage actually increase with these new multifamily developments, or will each resident still use their cars to commute, which is the most likely scenario?

Interestingly enough, the report identified that people aged 25 to 34 will actually increase on Long Island by around 25,000, a sharp contrast to the brain drain theory that many developers and stakeholder groups often cite. Will growth in this key demographic be cited by groups that have made the “Brain Drain” their bread and butter?

Lastly, can every downtown area support the growth being projected?

With Long Island’s current infrastructure (even looking beyond the often cited need for sewers in Suffolk), the answer is no. We need more road and rail capacity before even thinking about maximizing the density of our downtown areas.

The expansion of Long Island’s biomedical field is a great idea, but anchoring its success to multifamily housing is a stretch. Many areas targeted fall within the often touted 8,300 underutilized acres near the LIRR, and much of this acreage is used for parking. Until multiple garages are built, the current usage for these acres must remain. The Village of Westbury was cited as a case study, which in a similar fashion to the Village of Patchogue, is looking to add additional multifamily units. There seems to be little to no discussion of addressing the parking problems and capacity issues that Patchogue and other villages experience thanks to such rapid growth. These things must be planned out beyond projections and infographics.

That is the problem with such reports and our current approach to growth– there is no consideration of regional balance. How will Long Island’s already damaged environment be impacted by multifamily expansion? How will the social needs and wants of the community be impacted? All too often a lack of public education concerning multifamily housing is cited, but few ask if the community either wants, or is right for such development.

The Index’s report is well researched, and their strategy for creating clusters of industry is sound planning. However, the desire to create more residential development for the benefit of the local economy shouldn’t be a focal point of the report, nor should the assumption that the LIRR and downtown areas will be equipped for such growth.

The Index’s approach is just one piece of a complex, nuanced puzzle. It is possible to focus on concentrating growth of the biomedical sector without addressing the monster that is our housing issues. Why, except for the connection to creating housing for workers, should we hinge our economic development strategies on the shoulders of the volatile housing market?

The Long Island Index is bringing important issues to light through the use of approachable data and tying together disparate stakeholders with conflicting interests. Unfortunately, Long Island’s issues are like a Hydra – once you deal with one, two more appear thanks to the residual impacts of development.

We need, as a region to be better equipped to address and quantify our regional issues. The Long Island Index report is a good first step, but the expansion of housing must be done at the community level in areas that are receptive, and able to handle, such growth.