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Historic Area Seeks Fresh Vigor

The island retains scenic beaches, but its eroding economy needs help.

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FROM Great Neck and Valley Stream on the western fringes of Long Island to the fashionable Hamptons some 100 miles due east, the message is coming through loud and clear: Long Island - the region 17th century Dutch settlers called "Lange Eylandt" - needs a rejuvenation of political teamwork, regional planning and, most of all, new jobs to overcome the impact of the economic downturn.

To an extent, business and political leaders are responding. For example, the Long Island Lighting Company (Lilco), the area's main utility, and the New Long Island Partnership, a business, government, labor group, have begun an extensive advertising campaign urging businesses to relocate to the island.

"Long Island has a $40 billion annual economy and we want US companies to know that," says Bruce Germano, manager of the economic development department at Lilco.

Even the most cursory visit reveals Long Island as one of the most picturesque areas in the United States. Tourists spend more than $2 billion on the island annually. Yet the recent recession hit the local economy hard. In contrast to the rapid economic growth of the 1980s, the island has been losing more jobs than it has been gaining. The area's main industrial employer, Grumman Corporation, has fallen on lean times, reflecting cutbacks in US defense programs. Grumman alone has lost more than 10,000 job s in the last five years.

Day-to-day life can be challenging on the island. Main roadways are clogged with rush-hour traffic. Conservationists fight running battles to prevent commercial encroachment into the remaining open spaces of the island. And energy costs and property taxes are among the highest in the US.

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