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Reversing the Talent Drain on Long Island, a Team Effort

Bob Coughlan Speaking

Last week the Middle Market Alliance hosted, “Reversing the Talent Drain on Long Island, a Team Effort”, a discussion focused on how to keep the young workforce living and working on Long Island.

The event took place at the Heritage Club at Bethpage State Park and was moderated by former United States Representative for New York, Steve Israel and included panelists Bob Coughlan, Co-Founder of TRITEC Real Estate, Teresa Ferraro, President of East/West Industries, Paul Pontieri, Mayor of the Village of Patchogue, and Steve Stern, New York State Assemblyman.

The keynote speaker, Dr. Calvin O. Butts III, President of SUNY Old Westbury, began the discussion by calling attention to the thriving job market on Long Island, where jobs go unfilled because the high cost of living is a barrier to entry. Dr. Butts hoped that wages would reflect the realities of expenses in our region and went on to implore educators to teach skills that employers and the market demand.  He observed that revitalized and vibrant places help attract young people and enliven communities and concluded his remarks by begging the audience to use their voices to get involved in their public schools and local decisions.

Representative Israel opened the panel discussion with the question, “What are the keys to successfully keeping young people here?”

Mayor Pontieri responded by telling the story of how TRITEC began their work in Patchogue in 2007 when David Sloan brought Bob Coughlan to the Village of Patchogue to see the property that would eventually become New Village, one of the major developments in the revitalization of downtown Patchogue. Coughlan said that the goal in Patchogue was to create an environment that attracted the young workforce while continuously monitoring demographics and supply and demand. He spoke of TRITEC’s prior history in primarily developing medical and office properties and the realization that Long Island had a young, well-educated workforce in continuous exodus. Coughlan and his brother, Jim, co-founder of TRITEC Real Estate, traveled to places like Seattle, Oregon, Florida, and the boroughs of NYC to find out how they were attracting young people. When the Coughlans came to Patchogue’s Main Street for the first time it was nearly 50% vacant, and the leases in place were for tanning salons and laundromats. Despite the depressed conditions, TRITEC was interested in acquiring the properties because of ample sewer capacity and parking, political will, the sense of community and the great need for change. When TRITEC expressed interest, Mayor Pontieri provided TRITEC a book on Patchogue’s history and said, “Get to know us before you tell us who you want us to be.”

Teresa Ferraro applauded the progress in Patchogue and stressed the importance of knowing your students. She reminded the audience that there are many well-paying, union jobs that high school students should be aware of and trained to do if they do not go to college. Assemblyman Stern closed the topic by stating that you must know the local infrastructure to help it grow.

Representative Israel next asked, “What is the next industry for development on Long Island?”

Assemblyman Stern stated that there will be significant growth in cybersecurity and data analytics. Coughlan agreed and went on to say that technology is universal and young professionals are advanced in it and the trend will continue with new jobs created in those fields. He stated that we should focus on education in technology to keep attracting young people.  Mayor Pontieri added that a well-rounded education is essential but we are often teaching students skills that are not necessary to their work. 

Representative Israel then turned questions over to the audience.

The first question came from an audience member who stated that his wife works for Nassau Community College and that enrollment is dropping, not only there but at other Long Island schools. He asked what the panel is doing to work on that issue. Ferraro responded that schools have a responsibility to make education worthy of student matriculation. She recommended educators work with businesses to learn what are the skills employers are seeking and providing education in those skills to their students.

A second audience member asked about green energy and how the panelists planned to focus on it going forward. Coughlan responded that his daughter, Kelley Coughlan- Heck, Vice President of Development at TRITEC, is an environmentalist who prioritizes sustainability and that green options, such as LED lighting and solar panels, are growing and becoming more accessible. He emphasized that green decisions can be difficult for business because they must also address financial realities. As going green becomes more feasible, TRITEC is making changes to past projects, and it is a major consideration in new projects. Assemblyman Stern added that the Governor is aggressive about green decisions and pushing for all government levels to be run by 100% renewable energy in a few decades.

A third audience member asked how the panel plans to get current businesses to make the move to up- and-coming Main Streets. Coughlan responded that TRITEC looks for an authentic community with local establishments and that companies coming must be desired by the community. He reminded the audience that they have a role in these kinds of decisions and asked them to be involved in community meetings. He concluded by stating that there is usually a loud minority and a silent majority at political meetings and stressed the importance of voicing support for your town, sewer, parking, and other local decisions.

The appreciation and love for what Patchogue Main Street has become and the hope it provides for Long Island was made very clear in the discussion, both by the panelists and audience members. Communities will thrive as housing options improve and young people are educated in the skills for existing jobs and the jobs that are created as communities flourish.  With government officials leading the way through policy decisions and invigorating communities, developers like TRITEC can build the infrastructure for vibrant places on Long Island.