As feelings of animosity filled the hallways of the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. Tuesday night, students at Stony Brook University had the opportunity to listen to Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone discuss Suffolk County’s own problems with deadlock and employment prospects for graduating students.
Long Island’s economic success is dependent on young people remaining here, Bellone said, adding that “young people have been leaving this region at record rates for twenty years now,” a trend he is concerned about.
According to the New York State Department of Labor, Long Island’s total population growth has decreased from 8.6 percent between 1990 and 2000 to 1.6 percent between 2000 and 2010. This decrease in population is partly due to this emigration of young people to other parts of the country.
And according to Bellone, it is the county government’s responsibility to create incentives to halt this trend, but that mission is currently obstructed by what Bellone calls “dysfunction.”
“This government is largely dysfunctional…because it is focused on things that fundamentally do not matter to you or to our economic future,” he said. “We’ve been working to dispose of those old legacy issues that county government has been focusing on over the years.”
One of those legacy issues includes the government’s continued effort to solve the problem of homeless sex offenders.
“When I cite these issues, I don’t want people to misunderstand,” Bellone said. “My point is not that these are unimportant, what has happened in Suffolk is that the government has obsessed on these issues.”
While the Suffolk County government remains dysfunctional, Bellone cautioned that the problems faced by Long Island’s youth—“a lack of quality affordable rental housing, lack of high paying jobs, lack of places where young people want to live, lack of transportation options and high costs”—will keep driving them away.
He added that these problems can all be fixed, such as creating a new railway that travels in a North/South direction as opposed to the usual East/West direction to fix the transportation issue and building up public spaces to fix the attractive housing locations issue.
“You can’t do them independently,” Bellone said of the hierarchy of these issues. “You have to do them all together at the same time.”
The County Executive pointed to Stony Brook as a center for innovation for Long Island’s future. “Stony Brook University is an amazing place,” he said. “It is a global institution of global significance [and] the center of everything we want to do” for the county.
Though Long Island faces difficulties that must be confronted, Bellone said that “Suffolk County is an amazing place” with many things to offer, such as “amazing parks, beautiful beaches, the Hamptons, the wine country and…amazing institutions like Stony Brook University [and] Brookhaven National Laboratory.”
He added that despite the government’s problems and the declining population growth trend, Stony Brook University graduates are the key to solving Long Island’s economic woes.
“Nothing is impossible,” he said, “and all of you are going to create possibilities that my generation and I can’t conceive of.”